Splashes of color have transformed into a kaleidoscope of autumnal awesomeness over the past week or so around Washington.
When is peak inside the Beltway?
Peak is imminent locally. As we have been predicting, it still looks like foliage peak will begin around Nov. 1 inside the Beltway. The color is already surprisingly good!
“Best fall colors in decades here in the northern burbs,” wrote commenter mdweather in Capital Weather Gang’s Friday morning forecast article.
“Leaf colors this year are better than I’ve seen in a long time,” added commenter JP701.
Where to go this weekend
Your backyard. Kidding, sort of. You do not have to go far, but if you are looking for the best color in the shortest distance, you want to focus on suburban areas just north and west of the Beltway, or perhaps a little beyond. Area parks are great spots to take in the scenery.
As far as the weather goes, Saturday is the pick of the weekend, which also means it is probably going to be crowded out there. While clouds are more likely Sunday, they can soften the light and accentuate the foliage some.
Rain chances are minimal, and highs both days are between about 60 and 65.
The broader region
As of Thursday, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources had most of the Washington-Baltimore area in near-peak color. Great scenes can be found just about wherever you point.
“A drive to Carroll, Frederick or Washington counties will be worth the gas money,” they wrote.
If you are looking for color among rolling vistas, the Catoctin Mountains are still close to peak. Nearer the bay, color change is slower, as usual, but beautiful maples are emerging.
Eastern parts of the state are still in low color, with peak still a few weeks off.
The Virginia Department of Forestry reports most of the state outside the mountains is at near-peak or peak color conditions.
“Red maples continue to stand out this year, with individual trees ranging from yellow to orange to bright scarlet,” they wrote.
Higher elevations are moving further past peak, but some of the lower elevation highlands around the Blue Ridge are still seeing a good deal of yellows and oranges.
“Watch for a second, less intense wave of color as the oaks finally complete their change,” noted the Forestry Department.
They also point out that fall fire season is here given the increased leaf litter and frequent winds.
Higher elevations in West Virginia are past peak, but much of the state is still seeing prime fall color.
“Impressive fall color now covers the majority of the Mountain State,” wrote the West Virginia Department of Tourism. They continue to describe this season as “the most incredible fall colors West Virginia has seen in a decade.”
Why is this such a good year for color?
Great color has rolled out of the mountains and into the lowlands of the Mid-Atlantic this year. There were concerns dry weather late in the summer might dull the colors, especially into New England, but color quality is not as cut and dry as drought is bad, and rain is good.
It is true that summer drought can make trees unhealthy, either leading to early color change or early leaf drop. But weather during the fall may be more important for color quality.
“The right weather during the autumn can promote more intense color production,” wrote Harvard Forest in an article on the factors affecting fall color. “The reds (anthocyanins), which require sunlight for production, are enhanced by cold and sunny days.”
Regions seeing the best color have shared a “storybook” fall featuring cooler-than-normal temperatures amid sunny days, crisp nights and minimal storm activity to crush the leaves.
According to data compiled by the Southeast Regional Climate Center, temperatures in recent weeks have been below normal from the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast.
Recent falls in the Mid-Atlantic have tended to be warmer than normal, which has delayed and stressed trees undergoing change. It is probable that a warmer world will feature fewer brilliant fall color displays for such reasons. We’ve got to savor the cooler, crisper falls like the present.