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Fall Color Report: Leaves slowly starting to turn in spots across the Northwoods, peak colors still two to three weeks away

Katie Thoresen

While this summer-like weather is trying to hold on a bit longer, more fall-like temperatures are in the forecast this week.

And with it, more people will be looking forward viewing the fall colors.

There are three main things that impact leaves changing color in the Fall: leaf pigment, length of the night, and the weather.

The length of the night is the big one and the most predictable. That’s why the timing of fall colors is fairly consistent to the end of the September through October.

The warmer temperatures and drought conditions may push them back a little bit, but as soon as it gets cooler, like highs in the 60 and lows in the 30 and 40 that are in the forecast this week, the colors should really start popping.

While the changing of leaf color is inevitable, what colors and how vibrant they are can depend heavily on the weather in the months leading up to fall.

“A succession of warm sunny days and cool, crisp but not freezing nights, seem to bring about the most spectacular color displays. During these days lots of sugars a produced in the leaves, but the cool nights and the gradual closing of veins going into the leaves prevent the sugars from moving out. These conditions, lots of sugar and lights, spur production of the brilliant anthocyanin which tints reds, purples, and crimsons,” said Matt Bushman, Forest Silviculturist on the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest.

Bushman says yellows and oranges tend to remain pretty consistent from year to year.

Another factor that can influence the timing of the colors is rainfall.

“A whole bunch of different moisture conditions and weather conditions can really make each Autumn different from each other. Things like a later spring or severe summer drought can delay the onset of fall colors by a few weeks,” said Bushman. “A warm period during the fall will also lower the intensity of Autumn colors. But things like a warm, wet spring, favorable summer weather, and warm fall sunny days with cool nights should produce the most brilliant colors.”

Bushman recommends looking for places that get you up in elevation to view the fall colors.

Within the National Forest, places like St. Peter’s Dome, Quartz Hill, and the Mountain Fire Tower are usually good bets.

If you do head out into the forest this fall, Bushman just asks that you be safe about it.

“It’s one of those things, know where you’re going before you head out there. Let someone know when you’re going and when you come back, make sure you have a map. The Forest Visitor Map is a great place to go to get some of that information. Just be aware of your surroundings when you’re out there and enjoy the fall colors,” he said.

Wisconsin and Upper Peninsula Fall Color reports are showing colors start to turn now.

When fall colors will peak can be hard to predict, most northern areas are expecting peak colors the first or second week of October based on Fall Foliage map put out by the Smokey Mountains.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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