As devoted leaf peepers of the Pikes Peak region were dreaming of gold Tuesday, they woke up instead to white.

Overnight lows across Teller County — the local destination for fall aspen viewing — hovered between 20 and 23 degrees, said a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pueblo.

That might've spelled doom for the leaves on their transition from green to yellow.

"A lot of the trees, I think, will just turn black with the freeze," said Sharon Harding-Shaw, with Colorado Springs' Harding Nursery.

It's possible, said Mike Till, the forester with the Colorado State Forest Service field office in Woodland Park. 

"There will probably be some black or brown, and (leaves) could shrivel up and fall off," he said Wednesday. "But without seeing what's going to happen in the next week or so. ... It's going to warm up again, right?"

Yes, later this week and next, temperatures across the region are expected to return to what's normally felt this time of year. Warm days and cool, not frigid, nights are ideal for aspen displays come mid to late September around the Front Range.

"One cold spell, one snow is not the end-all," said JT Shaver, the State Forest Service forester based in Salida. "It's really the pattern after that."  

But the prognosis for the state's fall foliage was already less than ideal before the cold front hit. Drought was altering predictions; dryness typically signals stress, causing aspen leaves to turn earlier.

"Once you start stacking those stressing events, then they're going to show signs or be more susceptible to damage," Till said. "Like with humans. If you get a cold, that might lead to pneumonia, and then infection throughout your body. You can't fight all of it at once."

Shaver said he was already noticing gold spots around Chaffee County's mountains. More than the cold, "I think the biggest impact will be the snow load," he said. "It's going to knock a decent amount of branches off. So it could affect the full coloring of the trees." 

Peak viewing in that part of the state might be sooner than usual — more like early October now, Shaver said. "I think we'll still see color, for sure."

Aspens "have an ability to bounce back and do absorb some cold," Till said. He was holding out hope Wednesday.

"I think it's still to be determined," he said.

Gazette reporter Mary Shinn contributed to this report.


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