Why Are There Still Leaves On The Trees In Late October?

Usually by this time of year in Cheyenne, the community resembles a desolate moonscape. If there are any leaves left, they are brown and crumpled in the gutter. But this year, autumn has been spectacular.

Jimmy Orr

October 25, 20234 min read

Gilchrist Park in Cheyenne on Oct. 25, 2023.
Gilchrist Park in Cheyenne on Oct. 25, 2023. (Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily)

Ask any longtime Cheyenne resident and they’ll tell you, this fall ain’t normal.

Temperatures have been in the 70s nearly every day in October. There’s been little to no wind. Not one soul-crushing and foliage-destroying deep freeze has been recorded.

It’s been like autumn in New England. No, there aren’t as many reds on the trees, but there’s plenty of gold and it’s everywhere.

At little-known Gilchrist Park right outside the Wyoming Capitol, the foliage frames the sunlit dome like a painting — on Oct. 25. It’s unheard of.

Especially because in some years, Cheyenne can look like the surface of the moon in the first week of September because early snowstorms rob the community of Earth’s most beautiful season.

This year, it’s just the opposite. The cold has been kept at bay and golden leaves — not brown, dried-up crumpled things — continue to ornament trees.

“It’s just been gorgeous,” said Don Day, Cowboy State Daily’s meteorologist. “We just haven’t had that weather event that we usually have by this time that takes all the leaves off and gets rid of all the color.”

Day said usually by this time of year, fall is over.

“Plenty of leaves have fallen this year, but they haven’t all come off at the same time, which always seems to happen,” he said.

Like six years ago when the town was enjoying warm weather and colorful foliage until a powerful winter-like storm hit in late September dropping every last leaf to the ground virtually overnight.

June Gloom

But it’s not just what’s happened in September and October this year, it’s the weather of June that’s making a big difference.

Shane Smith would know. Smith, a horticulturist who spent more than 40 years in Cheyenne and calls Wyoming’s capital city — at 6,100 feet — one of the most difficult places in the country to grow anything, said the historically wet spring is making this year’s autumn spectacular.

“I’ve never seen it like this,” Smith told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. “Cheyenne got a ton of moisture this spring, so much that it doesn’t matter that it hasn’t rained in the last month. Once you charge that soil up, it’s down there.”

Day concurs. He says the historically moist June — the fourth wettest June since records have been kept — has really played a key role.

Both Smith and Day said leaves usually start dropping in early in the fall — like late September — because it’s so dry. 

Lack Of Deep Freeze

The other thing that’s a color-killer is frost, and Cheyenne hasn’t had that deep freeze yet — something that's unheard of for late October.

Historically, Cheyenne has its first frost around Sept. 20, Smith said. 

Although Cheyenne has had one frosty morning this season, it didn’t stay cold enough to affect the foliage.

“If the temperature drops to 25 or 27 for a whole night, everything is going to turn black and brown and things start falling off,” he said. “But if it gets that cold for only an hour or so, and that’s usually the last hour of darkness, things are going to be OK.”

Smith said he recalls the latest Cheyenne recorded its first big freeze was about Oct. 26 and then everything died off.

“Once you get a hard frost, the frost-tolerant plants like cabbage, pansies and snapdragons all bite the big one,” he said.

The community will match that exact date this year as Thursday night, Oct. 26, the temperature is expected to drop to 17 degrees and this weekend the temperatures will plummet to single digits.

The Party Is Over

“The overriding message is the party’s over,” Day said earlier this week. “The coldest weather of the season will be upon us soon.”

What’s unfortunate about this weather pattern is it’s going to be long-lasting.

“Most of next week looks cold — well-below-average temperatures,” he said. “And I don’t see the first two weeks of November bringing any significant warmth. This is certainly flipping the pattern into one that will be colder-than-average for a couple of weeks.”

Will this happen again next year?

Probably not. Day is all about data and his data suggests that this is an anomaly and unlikely to repeat anytime soon.

“At least we had it this year,” he said. “Memories are short. People forget we had an awful June but we’ve made up for it with a nice and pleasant October.”

Jimmy Orr can be reached at jimmy@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Jimmy Orr

Executive Editor

A third-generation Wyomingite, Jimmy Orr is the executive editor and co-founder of Cowboy State Daily.