OHIO VALLEY – Fall has come to the Ohio Valley, though its arrival has been delayed by warmer than normal temperatures and cloudy, rainy weather.
The Ohio Valley has become a popular destination for leaf peepers due to its large concentration of trees. Eighty percent of the state of West Virginia is covered by forests, and a large number of Ohio’s forested areas are found in southern Ohio. This, along with the Ohio River and it many tributaries, and abundant flora and fauna, make it an inviting location for leaf excursions.
In the Ohio Valley, residents and visitors alike have become accustomed to a gradual transition from summer to fall, with temperatures dropping a bit each day, along with shorter periods of daylight. As the leaves begin to turn, sweaters and hiking boots replace summer tank tops and sandals for walks in the fresh fall air. Surrounded by beautiful fall colors, we have an opportunity to say goodbye to summer and prepare for ourselves for winter.
Nature also takes note; birds begin grouping for their migration to warmer climates, squirrels and chipmunks gather food to store for the upcoming winter, farmers harvest their end of summer crops, all signs that fall has arrived and winter will follow.
Leaf peepers planning their foliage tours have already noticed this year’s late transition from summer to fall, and are concerned the season may be shortened and lack some of the usually brilliant colors. These concerns are valid: according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAH), weather changes, especially those that are extreme, have an effect on the leaf cycle. Hotter than normal temperatures, drought, or an early frost can make the leaves fall from the trees before they have time to change color.
NOAH explains that why and when leaves change color, and the vibrance of those colors has everything to do with weather. As summer fades into fall, the days start getting shorter and there is less sunlight. This is a signal for the leaf to prepare for winter and to stop making chlorophyll. Once this happens, the green color starts to fade and the reds, oranges, and yellows become visible.
Leaves get their green color from a chemical called chlorophyll, which allows plants to make energy from sunlight in a process called photosynthesis. In summer the leaves are making a lot of chlorophyll, and the green masks the orange and yellow pigments in the leaves. As days start getting shorter in the fall, there is less sunlight and so the trees produce less chlorophyll, allowing the reds, oranges, and yellows to become dominate.
But leaf peepers take heart, there is room for optimism that the 2021 season will still be a good one for foliage. An update from the Ohio Department of Natural Resource (ODNR) said that although the fall color timeline has been a little delayed, the cooler temperatures should allow us to see more colors.
“The weather across the state has not been ideal for vibrant fall color development,” said ODNR Fall Color Forester, David Parrott. “However, that trend seems to have turned a corner with many locations now reporting near peak conditions around the state.”
West Virginia echos this optimism- according to the West Virginia Department of Tourism, fall foliage in the state usually occurs within a six-week period that typically begins in late September and ends around the first week of November, but things are just a bit late getting started this year, and peepers will need to adjust their timeline.
Both Ohio and West Virginia have developed interactive fall foliage maps and provide weekly updates on color changes in specific locations, allowing leaf peepers to plan their trips accordingly. ODNR and the West Virginia Department of Tourism, in partnership with the Forestry Service, advise peepers to check the maps before planning their leafing excursions, as foliage peaking timelines vary throughout the states.
This delay of leafing season is a reminder that Mother Nature has her own schedule, and does not adjust to human expectations. Nature does not follow our calendar, and instead we should follow hers. The best we can do is enjoy what Nature has to offer when it happens, and watch as fall is unfolded in a myriad of colors only she can produce.
Those interested in finding the most eye-catching leaves throughout the season can visit ODNR’s fall color website that includes weekly color updates a map showing fall color progress, information to help plan a fall color adventure, and ideas for road trips: www.ohiodnr.gov. In addition, find ODNR fall color updates on its YouTube channel.
The West Virginia Department of Tourism has partnered with the West Virginia Department of Forestry to provide a free downloadable leaf map, a fall inspiration guide that includes some of the best places to visit for a leafing experience, and a weekly color update: https://wvtourism.com/.
© 2021, Ohio Valley Publishing, all rights reserved.
Lorna Hart is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing.