Watch a previous report on the best weather conditions for fall colors in the video player above.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The fall color change will begin to take hold in northern Ohio by the end of September, and turn bright and vivid from north to south in October.
Fall officially arrives on Sept. 23 at 2:50 a.m., marking the autumnal equinox, when the most direct rays of the Sun are over the Equator and the daylight period is 12 hours worldwide.
Last year, unseasonably warm weather lingered through the first several weeks of October, which stressed some trees and diminished the color. Temperatures in Columbus averaged continuously above normal from Oct. 1-21, 2022.
After a hot start to September, the next few weeks look to be mostly cooler-than-normal, which will help initiate the seasonal coloration.
Adequate summer (June-August) rainfall (14.59 inches in Columbus, nearly 2 inches above normal), and lower-than-normal temperatures (1.3 degrees below average) should favor some glorious fall colors around the Buckeye State next month.
Why Leaves Change Color
The autumn color display is instigated by the gradual cessation of food production as the days shorten and the weather turns cooler. The early-turning leaves first show up in the red and sugar maples, and black gum trees.
Chlorophyll in plants, which reflects green light to our eyes, is a molecule that converts sunlight into a form of sugar that provides nutrients for plants in the process of photosynthesis. The breakdown of chlorophyll molecules reveals the hidden yellow, orange and red pigments that are determined by chemicals in the leaves, carotenoids and anthocyanins.
Carotenes are responsible for the yellow and orange pigments. By mid-October, a chemical reaction forms anthocyanins, as bright sunny days and chilly nights cause the sugar to become concentrated in the sap, bringing out vivid, deep red and purple pigments.
How Weather Impacts The Color Display
In an abnormally warm fall, chlorophyll is produced for a longer duration, delaying the color change. Eventually, the window for colorful foliage closes by early November, resulting in a short season. Prolonged dryness also dulls the color scheme, when some leaves turn brown.
A persistently wet, gray pattern limits the vibrancy due to less sunlight. Windy, stormy conditions or an early heavy frost cause the leaves to drop early.
Where To See Spectacular Fall Color
The northernmost contiguous U.S. is the first area of the country to see the leaves change. The autumn display unfolds first across the Upper Midwest, Great Lakes and interior New England by the end of September, before peaking in early to mid-October.
The color change spreads southward through the Ohio Valley in October, occurring earliest in the northeast highlands. Mohican State Park in Ashland provides beautiful vistas to view autumn colors around the second week of October. Also among the best places to see the fall colors in Ohio are Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Malabar Farm State Park, and along the Ohio & Erie Canalway.
In central Ohio, Alum Creek State Park in Delaware County and Highbanks Metropark in Lewis Center offer scenic views in mid-to-late October. In Franklin County, Blendon Woods Metro Park, which straddles Blendon Township and Westerville, you can glimpse the fall foliage on a drive through the park.
Hocking Hills State Park and the Appalachian foothills in southeast Ohio are usually cloaked in bright colors the last two weeks of the month. In the southwest, Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve and John Bryant State Park in Greene County are favorite fall destinations.
Toward the end of the month, the Great Smoky Mountains along the Tennessee-North Carolina border are one of the most popular places to catch fall color.
Map tools are designed to help travelers decide on the best time to visit, using a complex algorithm that predicts county-by-county fall foliage, based on millions of data points.
The data include historical temperatures, historical precipitation, and forecast temperatures from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), along with historical peak trends and user-generated information.