The advance of fall color continues to be on the slow side compared to normal this year, largely thanks to a warm start to fall. The District just posted its second warmest October on record.
But the warm October could only delay fall color so long. The last three nights have seen lows in the 20s and 30s and a tree canopy that was overwhelmingly green a week ago is turning rustier.
The next week to 10 days promise the best leaf viewing of 2021 in the Washington region. While good conditions may continue beyond, especially from Interstate 95 eastward, the potential for leaf fall will increase due to the likelihood of windy, stormy weather. It won’t be long until trees are bare.
Monday’s update from the Foliage Report, which aggregates fall foliage reports, showed much of the area in moderate color, with the far northwestern D.C. suburbs showing high color, and the mountains to the west near or past peak depending on elevation.
This map may now be a bit dated due to the three cold nights since it was produced. Color transition is moving along as fast as it has all season.
The immediate D.C. area
Within a one-county radius of the District, we’re usually at or even passing peak color by now. This year we’re either still a week or so away from peak, or rapidly closing in, depending on location.
Areas inside the Beltway and to the east, where many leaves remain green, may still have a week or so before colors peak. But north and west of the Beltway, the color is rapidly closing in on peak, if not already there.
In many places, the brightness and quality of the colors are a little underwhelming. Some early changers like maples have shown significant premature leaf drop but there are patches of brilliant color here and there.
The idyllic fall weather of recent days, and for much of the week ahead, could bring out some more vibrant hues.
You can find fall color at all different stages in Maryland, ranging from past peak in the high mountains in the western part of the state to just a hint of color nearer to the eastern beaches.
According to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties in the northwest are past peak. The ocean-adjacent Worcester County is still in the “just changing” phase.
The DNR shows much of the D.C. area at peak, though we’re probably several days away, highlighting some of the differences and subjectivity in fall color reporting.
Virginia is also exhibiting quite a range in fall color. During the middle of this week, if you drove into the mountainous Highland County in west-central Virginia, you would have encountered “snowliage,” or a coating of snow amid the changing color.
“Almost anywhere you travel in Virginia this week, you’ll find a beautiful mix of colors — and maybe even a dusting of snow in the high mountains of southwest Virginia,” wrote the Virginia Department of Forestry in its Nov. 3 update.
It’s sure to be a busy weekend for leaf peepers locally. High color to near peak conditions are ongoing across Northern Virginia.
“The Blue Ridge and Ridge and Valley regions are at the peak of coloration or just past it, and much of the Piedmont is nearing peak,” the Department of Forestry wrote.
Skyline Drive will also surely be packed this weekend. According to the weekly report, conditions are near or just past peak at higher elevations but near peak across the sweeping views of the lowlands of Shenandoah Valley.
The Mountain State is moving past peak.
With the D.C. area seeing night after night of temperatures in the 30s (or even lower in some spots), you know it’s got to be colder in the mountains to the west, which soar above 4,000 feet.
“This morning’s chilly 10-degree reading logged at the northern Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge was, for the second consecutive day, one of the lowest temperatures in the Lower 48 states,” wrote retired National Weather Service climatologist Bob Leffler in an email Friday.
There are, however, still some beautiful last vestiges of color in the mountains. You’ll want to bring a few extra layers to bundle up if you’re headed there.
It really looks like a fantastic week ahead.
Partly clear skies are the rule this weekend. Saturday’s highs are mainly in the mid-50s locally, with 40s in the mountains. It will be slightly milder Sunday in both spots. Cold nights will turn a little less so with time. Clouds could be more numerous Sunday as a low-pressure system moves by offshore.
The 60s will return to the Washington area for much of the upcoming workweek as sunshine continues to dominate. The nights will remain mostly clear and cool.
The weather pattern may turn more turbulent by the weekend of Nov. 13 and 14 when the days of the foliage season will be numbered.