By Erin Cleavenger
Fall is officially upon us. Those long summer days are getting shorter and cooler temperatures will soon sneak up on us. One of the most significant signs of this seasonal change in our area will be the changing of trees and foliage from green to vibrant reds, oranges and yellows.
According to Dave Dombek, senior meteorologist for AccuWeather, there are several factors that determine when the leaves will change, but the biggest driving factor is sunlight.
“Chlorophyll and the photosynthesis process with the sun is what keeps the leaves green,” Dombek said. “At some point your days get short enough, the sun angle gets low enough in the sky and energy from the sun coming in daily gets weak enough that the photosynthesis process begins to break down and show the leaves’ natural colors.”
The exact time we see this color change start changes year-to-year depending on location and the weather leading up to fall. So what is the ideal situation that you want to see for a nice, bright, vibrant foliage time in the fall?
“You want to see it relatively dry. You really don’t want it raining all the time, so when you have a dry spell early fall that is actually a good thing,” said Dombek. “When you get heavy rain or lots of rain late in the season it sometimes gives the trees and vegetation an extra boost of energy and moisture that will prolong the greenness and delay things.”
Cold nights, a hard freeze, or a killing frost will accelerate the process, but the extended forecast for this area doesn’t show that happening in the next two weeks or so as we should be seeing average or above average temperatures, Dombek said.
The West Virginia Department of Forestry started its weekly foliage reports about two weeks ago, which are submitted to the Department of Tourism and published weekly for the entire state.
“Right now our colors are at about 5%, they are just starting to turn,” Rudy Williams, the regional forester for Region One, which includes Monongalia and Preston counties, said. “The sumac, ironweed, black gum are just starting to turn and they are basically red colors. We are also seeing some maples starting to turn a little bit yellow.”
We are still waiting for that full fall color experience.
“We probably won’t see some major color changes for maybe about two weeks,” Williams said. “We usually really start to peak around mid-October in this area. The higher elevations like Terre Alta tend to turn a little bit earlier than the rest of Preston and Mon counties.”
For the best fall foliage views in our area, Williams suggests Coopers Rock or the WVU Arboretum, but the Department of Forestry’s website has a state map of when the peak colors will be visible in each region and county.
You can find more information about where and when to see the best and brightest colors West Virginia has to offer by clicking on the Fall Foliage link at www.wvforestry.com or visiting www.wvtourism.com/fall, where you can get weekly updates, find a live leaf map, explore scenic drives, or download a free fall inspiration guide.