Fall color is peaking in the mountains and expanding across D.C. area

WEATHER NEWS: Fall color is peaking in the mountains and expanding across D.C. area

It has been one of the more delightful falls in recent memory with plentiful warm, sunny days and cool, clear nights. The idyllic weather is helping deliver vibrant autumn color across the Mid-Atlantic.

Western-focused drought is dulling fall foliage, but there are still vibrant pockets

For the most part, we expect such conditions to continue — allowing the beautiful colors in the mountains to creep toward lower elevations in the coming weeks.

This weekend’s about perfect for a drive to some leaf-peeping hot spots in the mountains west of Washington. Even inside the Beltway, small-scale pretty scenes are emerging as early changers like maple transform into fiery reds and oranges.

How far from peak locally?

Given that fall color is arriving faster than it has recent years, a peak color date of Nov. 1 seems like a reasonable estimate for areas inside the Beltway; in our cooler suburbs to the west and north, the week leading up to Halloween looks prime. A Nov. 1 peak around Washington would be one of the earliest since at least 2008. In 2012, peak arrived Oct. 31.

A cooler-than-average October (the average temperature is more than 5 degrees below normal so far) is helping the colors quickly progress; a strong blast of cold next week and some frosty nights will bring out even stronger foliage.

Unusually cold autumn weather to blast eastern U.S. next week

Where to wander this weekend

If you’re a fan of weekend road trips, the high country of West Virginia is immersed in peak color, according to the Foliage Report, a website that tracks the seasonal change. Plan on daytime temperatures in the 60s (50s at the highest elevations) and plenty of sun, with a shower chance by Sunday afternoon.

Closer to home, the Blue Ridge is in moderate color. If you decide to join the crowds on Skyline Drive, daytime temperatures there are also mainly in the 60s.

Elsewhere, color is patchy — or low, according to the Foliage Report — as the season revs up.

Beautiful fall conditions are aiding brilliant color in Maryland’s mountainous areas.

“Frosty mornings followed by warm sunny afternoons has coaxed a full palette of colors at Potomac-Garrett State Forest,” wrote Maryland Department of Natural Resources forest manager Scott Campbell in an online report.

The Maryland DNR said trees in Garrett and Allegany counties were near peak color as of Thursday. Midpoint color was noted in Washington County.

Drone footage released by the DNR (above) showed significant color at Deep Creek Lake, in the far west of the state.

The high elevations of western Virginia offer the state’s best color right now. The Virginia Department of Forestry reported peak color in the Allegheny Mountains, which ride the Virginia-West Virginia border north into Western Maryland and southwest Pennsylvania.

The Allegheny Mountains Weather website has a great compilation of photos from Thursday. They show peak to even past peak conditions along the mountain chain.

Color in the Mountain State is at or near peak across elevations above about 2,000 feet.

“We are hearing from folks all over the state that this is the most beautiful color we’ve had in years,” said West Virginia Department of Tourism secretary Chelsea Ruby.

Some locations in Tucker and Pocahontas counties — including near Davis and Canaan Valley — are moving past peak following numerous freezes in the past week. Lower elevations of the state are expected to peak in the next week or two.

Our outlook for peak foliage around Nov. 1 around Washington is based on recent observations. The average peak since 2008 is around Nov. 4, while year-to-year dates tend to fall within 5 days of that. The warmer the fall, typically the later color peaks.

In 2012 — which featured a cool autumn — peak was reached on Halloween. In the warmer falls of 2018 and 2021, peak didn’t occur until Nov. 8.

The fall foliage peak is trending later because of increasingly warm fall weather caused by climate change.

Weather not only influences peak color timing but can also affect how vibrant or dull the leaves are. A normal to somewhat wet summer and a normal to somewhat cool and dry fall are ideal conditions for tree health.

However, the loss of daylight as we drift into winter is the primary driver of color change. Increased darkness allows the green chlorophyll to break down before leaves are shed for the cold-season slumber.

It’s beginning to look a lot like autumn on our various social media feeds. Below, a sample of recent photos.

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