September 30, 2010 in Washington Voices

Fall leaves will soon unfold a predictable wonder

Randy Mann
 

As the fall season continues to advance, the beauty of the Inland Northwest is enhanced by the tremendous fall foliage. Every autumn, nature gives us a brilliant array of color across much of the U.S. and the Inland Northwest. The best color across our region is in October. The peak of the fall foliage will likely be around the second or third week of next month.

During this time of year, a variety of red, purple, orange and especially yellow leaves will dot the landscape. Fall foliage is a multimillion-dollar business for many tour operators, restaurants, inns and various attractions that rely on tourists. One of the most popular parts of the country for fall foliage is New England, where my wife and I lived for eight years. In late September and early October, many of the area landscapes were covered in breathtaking color.

The leaf color-changing process is quite fascinating. In the spring and summer months, the trees’ green leaves actually serve as food factories for the tree’s growth. The leaf contains a chemical called chlorophyll, which also give the leaf its green color. This chemical absorbs energy from sunlight, used to transform carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates such as sugars and starch.

As we move further along into the fall season, the shorter daylight hours and cooler temperatures cause the leaves to stop their food-making process. The chlorophyll breaks down and the green color disappears. The red, orange and yellow pigments in the leaf now become visible, making for spectacular displays before the leaves fall off the trees. Sugar maples and birch trees often show the widest array of color at this time of year.

In the Pacific Northwest, the highest parts of the Cascades and along the Idaho border should provide some great color the over the next several weeks. Mount Hood in Oregon also is a good spot for viewing nature’s beauty. Close to home, there should be a number of spots to see nature’s fall colors across the Inland Northwest toward the middle to the end of October.

The calendar says autumn, but many of us have been enjoying the warm and mostly sunny weather over the past week. The warm and dry pattern should continue into early October. By the middle of next month, things should be turning much cooler and wetter across the Inland Northwest, including Eastern Washington. The La Niña, a cooler-than-normal sea-surface temperature in the Pacific Ocean, is slowly gaining strength, a probable sign of a harsh winter ahead.

Contact meteorologist Randy Mann at randy@longrangeweather.com.

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