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Posted at 12:30 PM ET, 10/21/2008

Weather Favorable For Fantastic Fall Foliage

By Jason Samenow

Some fall colors begin emerging in northwest D.C. last week. By Capital Weather Gang photographer Ian Livingston.

The factors that contribute to the vibrancy of fall colors seem to be coming together to give us a brilliant show in the coming weeks.

Consider this statement from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources on the weather's influence on fall color:

A warm wet spring, favorable summer weather, and warm sunny fall days with cool nights should produce the most brilliant autumn colors.

By and large, we've had all of the above. The spring was warmer and wetter than average. "Favorable summer weather" means no drought, and we avoided that. And, by and large, we've had warm sunny days and cool nights this fall and this trend should continue.

Keep reading to learn when colors will peak locally. Will this weekend's weather cooperate for viewing autumn colors? See our full forecast.

So the stage is set for a spectacular local display of color. When will the colors peak?

Heading west towards Loudoun and Frederick counties, colors are starting to peak now and should be at peak for the next week or so. Peak colors should reach the closer-in north and west suburbs (Fairfax, Prince William, and Montgomery County) next week. By Halloween and into the first week of November, colors should be peaking in the District and eastwards towards Prince George's and Anne Arundel County.

Here are a couple great local resources for fall color updates:

Maryland Department of Natural Resources Fall Foliage Updates

Virginia Fall Foliage Report

Are you starting to see nice colors where you live? Comment with your reports...

By Jason Samenow  | October 21, 2008; 12:30 PM ET
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Mad Meteorologist Predicts Winter Mayhem
Next: PM Update: Time to Think Wind Chill Factor?


I love that photograph. I don't know precisely what draws me to it, but I find myself staring it longingly. I wonder if it is some subconscious childhood memory?


Nice photo, Mr. Livingston.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | October 24, 2008 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the beautiful photo, Ian. I wonder if that's a dogwood, Virginia's state tree?

In Annandale here, my reliable red maple is a tad brighter than last year and a whole lot brighter than 2006 (?) when we had that brutal drought.

Interestingly, it's just now peaking, two weeks later than normal for it, an early dropping species. My silver and striped maples that normally peak now are just beginning to turn, as are the other deciduous trees on my street.

I've lived here only ten years, so maybe this isn't as abnormal as it looks to me. Still, I can't help but wonder if it's related to global warming, despite my awareness that the decline in daylight hours remains an unaltered factor.

I've read up on this and am surprised by the apparent dearth of research on autumn leaf colors. My guess is its irrelevance to trees' survival makes it a less vital subject for botanists.

Reportedly, autumn color is merely a happy accident attending leaf death, and one chiefly limited to the upper half of the eastern U.S. - yet another reason to live here.

Posted by: jhbyer | October 26, 2008 6:35 PM | Report abuse

jhbyer, I zoomed on the pic to try to get you an ID - it's definitely not dogwood, both for leaf shape (dogwoods have pointed fat oval leaves) and fall color (primarily cherry red to maroon for dogwoods in a good year). The heartshaped leaf tags it as either a linden or basswood of some sort, or a redbud, and since the color is muted and I think I see serrations, I'd guess it's a linden. They're pretty common around here, as they are somewhat tolerant of urban pollution.

As far as the timing goes, a lot of that has to do with WHEN the cold nights start. In the close-in suburbs, we didn't have really chilly nights until quite recently, and the trigger for many trees is night temps near but not below freezing.
Finally, I did a quick search for explanations, and I think it's not so much that the research has not been done, as that it is complex enough so most of it doesn't show up in the simplified explanations for (mostly) kids which are on the web. Fall color is a side-effect of a survival process for broadleaf trees and shrubs, but there are at least 3 triggers interacting in various degrees - day length, temperature, and soil moisture - and which one has the most control varies by species.

Posted by: fsd50 | October 27, 2008 11:47 AM | Report abuse

fsd50, thank you for all your information, excellent insights, and points well-made.

You've helped me recall that many fine libraries in our area are open to the public for browsing, and I shouldn't rely so much on Google.

I particularly appreciate your defining the leaves for me and identifying them. Linden does fit exactly, imo, too.

Newly retired, I'm finally taking time to get to know my quietest neighbors, the flora, and have been surprised at what a pleasure it's been to make their acquaintance. What a snob I was to imagine they were just a lot of pretty-faced sticks-in-the-mud.

Plants' dependence on weather has heightened my interest in it as well, making this site a favorite, in no small part, because posters like you, fsd50, have been so kind as to answer my questions. Thanks, again.

Posted by: jhbyer | October 27, 2008 1:39 PM | Report abuse

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