It hasn’t felt like fall the last few days, but with the incoming cold blast Sunday, it will become quite apparent. In fairly short order, the leaves will commence their annual color transformation.
Already, some spotty fall color is emerging in some of the region’s outlying north and west suburbs. And in the mountains, a growing percentage of trees are displaying changing foliage.
Peak foliage map
I created a map which provides an approximation of when different parts of the region can expect peak color. The process for doing this wasn’t particularly scientific. I examined a number of national scale maps which have attempted this and used my knowledge of the area’s climate to refine the contours.
One tool which proved handy was the map of the average first first freeze in the area - which is not a bad approximation of when to expect peak fall color. Note the map I created is fairly coarse, smoothing over mountain peaks, which can easily peak a week or more before valley locations.
Essentially, most of the metro area experiences peak color in late October to early November. Out towards the mountains, the peak is usually in early-to-mid October. At the eastern shore, leaf viewing is typically prime in mid-November.
Will the weather effect timing and quality of foliage this fall?
The dates of peak foliage are only approximate because the weather can result in earlier or later peaks. The National Weather Service explains:
Drier than normal weather in the late summer into early fall will tend to accelerate the leaf changing process, causing the leaves to fall prematurely. Likewise, a wet September and October will tend to produce fewer vivid colors and the leaves may also fall earlier due to the rain, wind and storms. The prime weather conditions which are conducive to brilliant fall colors are warm, sun dominant days and cool, crisp nights but without frosts or freezes; such as high temperatures in the 60s and 70s with lows in the mid 30s to around 50.
Drier than normal conditions in some areas locally might cause the leaves to fall off quicker this autumn, but I don’t think the weather has been extreme enough to have a profound effect on either the timing or quality of foliage we should expect.
Detailed foliage reports
Here are some updates from some useful sources to monitor this fall:
Virginia Department of Forestry : “A gradual change in foliage conditions can be seen in the western part of the state, generally at higher elevations, with a lower percentage of fall color at the lower elevations. Patchy color changes exist among tree species such as poplars, sweet gum, dogwood and maple”
The Foliage Network, Southeast : “More color is emerging in the mountains, spreading from north to south. Much of western Maryland, eastern West Virginia, extreme northwestern Virginia and along the North Carolina-Tennessee border, color change is moderate (31% - 60% change). In the highest elevations in northern West Virginia, color change is high (61% - 80% change). Elsewhere in the region, color change is mostly low, except for coastal locations where there is still little change.”