COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The fall colors have been less than dramatic this fall due to a record warm weather pattern since the beginning of September through the first three weeks of October. Temperatures in Columbus averaged continuously above normal from Oct. 1-21.
Unseasonably warm weathers slows the annual color change, which is currently patchy in most of Ohio. However, a recent trend toward cooler weather will accelerate the appearance of more vivid shades that will be nearing peak color around Halloween.
Peter Lowe, director of landscape operations at The Dawes Arboretum in Newark, explained that the optimal conditions for vibrant autumn colors are bright, sunny days and crisp nights, with an adequate amount of soil moisture, which has not been lacking this year. A dry late summer and early fall can result in more brown and early leaf drop.
“The colors that show up earliest are those yellows and oranges, typically in your maple species,” he said, referring to the red and sugar maple trees that are common in the region.
The annual unfolding of nature’s panoply of color runs typically from north to south, unless disrupted by too much cloud cover and rain.
The color change commences with the gradual cessation of food production through photosynthesis as the days shorten and temperatures cool off. The annual reduction or breakdown chlorophyll that provides the green coloration unveils hidden yellows, oranges and reds.
An abnormally warm fall slows down the season progression because chlorophyll is still being produced. Eventually, the window closes in early November, resulting in a shorter, less vivid season without the more synchronized color change.
“One of the colors we are starting to notice now is a heavy sense of red. Your red and purple colors are produced in the leaves late in the season,” Lowe said.
Cooler temperatures help form the chemical anthocyanin that is responsible for the reddish-purple pigments. Bright sunshine followed by colder nights cause sugar to become concentrated in the sap and react to form anthocyanins, explaining crisp autumn weather produces the best foliage displays.
Unusually wet and cloudy weather dulls the colors, and windy, stormy weather can bring leaves down early. Drought conditions cause a change to brown and an early leaf fall.
Among the best places to see the fall colors are Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Malabar Farm State Park, and along the Ohio * Erie Canalway.
Alum Creek State Park in Delaware County and Mohican State Park in Ashland should show more autumn colors in the coming days. Highbanks Metropark in Lewis Center offers scenic views of the leaves overlooking the Olentangy River.
In southwest Ohio, Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve and John Bryant State Park in Greene County are also favorite destinations in late October.
In Franklin County, Blendon Woods Metro Park, which straddles Blendon Townhip and Westerville, you can glimpse the fall foliage on a drive through the park.