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First colors of Fall appear in Virginia

Fall in Vermont

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – In our first week of Autumn, the first shades of Fall appear in select spots of the Commonwealth.

In Wednesday’s Fall foliage update, you can see a healthy swath of early season color along the Blue Ridge, and another from West Virginia into the Allegheny range.

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Of course, this early in the season, leaf drop is practically non-existent.

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If you do see trees dropping their leaves now in our area, it’s likely because those trees are distressed or dying. If any trees near your house show signs of distress, especially if there are branches threatening your property, you may choose to consider trimming the tree or cutting it down now, before winter weather arrives.

Through early October, the Appalachian Mountains in western Virginia will continue to be the spot to see the first shades of Fall. As the days get shorter and the nights colder (more frequent frosts), we’ll see the best Fall colors bleed into central and eastern Virginia from mid-October through early November.

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Our wetter-than-average year, with drier weather in September, may bode well for our Fall colors season this year! Most trees are in good shape from ample rain in 2013. Foliage trained spotter Marek D. Rzonca of The Foliage Network says, “Warm, sunny days, cool, crisp nights and normal precipitation bring about the best foliage conditions.” I think we’re on track for a great start to the season, y’all!

However, what happens during Fall itself can also impact how the colors progress. Some of those factors include Fall storms that can damage trees (from strong cold fronts with thunderstorm wind gusts to tropical systems), to rainfall (necessary for healthy trees), to temperatures (we want sunny, seasonally warm days and cool, dry nights), to the type of tree.

Leaves change color, or rather, reveal all of their colors already present in the leaves, during the Fall season as a result of  shorter days and a lower sun angle. Chlorophyll (the green color we usually see on leaves in Spring and Summer) is produced in leaves as energy from the Sun is absorbed into the tree during Spring and Summer. Trees also need water (2013 rain has been above average, so we’re in good shape) to work with the Sun’s energy to then produce the sugars the feed the tree. But Chlorophyll isn’t the only piece of the color puzzle. There are three components of a plant leaf that create the variety of colors we see during Fall as Summer fades to Winter.

Chlorophyll is the dominant green color during Spring and Summer. Carotenoids also present in leaves produce yellow, orange, and brown colors.  Anthocyanins is the final factor, and they add the richest, darkest, red to violet colors to leaves. They also are responsible for the red in some apples, blueberries, cherries, strawberries, and plums.

All three pigment pieces are present in the leaf through Summer, it’s just that the chlorophyll is the “dominator,” making leaves look green. As chlorophyll production dwindles, the other colors show.

The Virginia Department of Forestry explains, “Both chlorophyll and carotenoids are present in the chloroplasts of leaf cells throughout the growing season. During this time, chlorophyll is produced and broken down and leaves appear green. As days get shorter, chlorophyll production slows down until it stops. The green color is no longer visible, and other pigments present (carotenoids) with the chlorophyll are then revealed. During autumn, bright light and excess plant sugars produce anthocyanins within leaf cells.”

Daylight time is, therefore, the main reason why leaves change color. That doesn’t change year-to-year. However, the weather can play a significant role, affecting the brilliance and longevity of the Fall foliage season. If trees have been damaged by storms or distressed by drought (not the case this year, but some trees may have been damaged by last year’s drought), the colors will likely not be as bold, nor linger as long. If a strong storm system sweeps through with gusty winds during the leaf change, then leaves will drop early.

CLICK HERE to learn more about why leaves change color.

The Forest Service‘s Fall Color Hotline (1-800-354-4595) provides updates on the progress of Fall colors. Press “8″ for the Southern States report.
Virginia’s Fall Foliage Report Phone: 1.800.424.LOVE
Skyline Drive/Shenandoah National Park – 540.999.3500 (press “6”)

Submit your Fall foliage pictures from this year to Carrie by emailing your photo to crose@wtvr.com. Yours may be featured on the CBS 6 Morning Newscast! Be sure to include your name, location of photo, and date it was taken.

Meteorologist Carrie Rose
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