Weather working against vibrant fall colors

Subtle reds have shown up on some trees around Marietta, but the normal fall display of bright colors is unlikely this year because of hot, dry weather during late summer and early fall. (Photo by Michael Kelly)

MARIETTA — The ideal combination to fuel the fiery colors of fall in the Mid-Ohio Valley forests is moderate late summer and early fall rains with nights that are cool but not freezing.

The valley didn’t get that this year.

Casey Burdick, fall color forester for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said the weather this year just wasn’t right for a colorful fall. Vibrant displays of colors are unlikely on most local trees this season.

“It’s been very warm, we haven’t had much rain until recently, and now the trees are shutting down their circulation, causing the leaves to turn brown and drop off because there’s no longer that connection between the tree and the leaf,” she said.

Maple trees, renowned for fiery reds and dark oranges, are going to be showing yellow instead, she said.

“That’s because of the heat wave we had,” Burdick said. “The sap continues to be thin instead of thickening up with the cold. It’s not trapping the sugar in the leaf that causes the chemical reaction that produces those oranges and reds.”

“Ideally? Moderate rains, nice sunny days and cool but not freezing nights, in the high 30s to low 50s, that’s what produces those really vibrant colors,” she said.

Maura Casey, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Charleston, said the Parkersburg-Marietta area is actually above normal rainfall this year to date, but most of it fell in the first half of the year.

“For the past month and a half, we’ve hardly gotten anything,” she said.

Normal precipitation for August, September and October is about 10 inches, she said, and the area got just 7 inches in that period this year, most of that in the first half of August.

The heat was also working against foliage colors. Casey said September usually starts out with daytime highs in the mid-70s, declining gradually toward the end of the month.

“We had one week in the 90s,” she said. “The heat not only dries up the atmosphere, it also pulls the moisture out of the ground, and the trees transpire more water through their leaves.”

And the leaves?

“If you’re dry at the end of the season, they just turn brown and fall off during a wind storm,” she said.