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Upside to Drought: Gorgeous Fall Leaves

Less water leads to less chlorophyll and more colors
By Dustin Lushing,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 2, 2012 4:15 PM CDT
Updated Sep 3, 2012 10:05 AM CDT
Upside to Drought: Gorgeous Fall Leaves
Less water means less chlorophyll means more colors.   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – The lack of rain this year could elicit a dazzling side effect in the fall: exceptionally colorful leaves. That's because below-average rainfall in the Northeast may cause trees to shut down production of a chemical called chlorophyll earlier than usual. Without it, various pigments like carotenes and xanthophyll (yellow to orange) and anthocyanins (red) visually emerge, reports LiveScience.

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Water scarcity causes stress in trees, which leads to an earlier-than-usual preparation for winter and the switch-off of chlorophyll. The fall display will still be vivid as long as days are sunny and nights cool, says a researcher, but a particularly harsh drought will make leaves die and break off. It's a bit early to tell just how spectacular the arboreal show will be this year because the colors are not at their pinnacle until October. (Read more chlorophyll stories.)

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