GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The fall foliage was exceptional this year across West Michigan. Vibrant reds and deep golds dominated the landscape. This follows two lackluster late years for color and one viewer wants to know why.

Weather drives the show

Every year we lose length of daylight at the same rate during the fall. It is mathematical. It’s based on the tilt of the Earth. It doesn’t really change from year to year. What isn’t consistent year to year (or even day to day) is the weather.

The best color shows occur for us when we have three things:

  • Near normal precipitation
  • Warm, sunny days
  • Cold, above freezing nights

This fall season did just that. Most of Michigan was not reporting drought at the start of fall. A drier than usual September was balanced perfectly by a damp and cooler than average October. Rain showers moved back into our state during the tenth month, allowing trees a bit more stability before moving into deep fall.

September came in close to average for temperatures, which means it featured a lot of warm dry days and cool, clear nights. This set up the show for success but more rain and cooler temps were needed to clinch the show. October came in like a pinch hitter.

The first ten days of October came in about 3° cooler than average with Oct. 10-20 deepening that chill with a visit from the Polar Vortex landing at about 5° colder than usual. Rounds of rain helped to balance out September’s lack thereof, and ensure that leaf drop was lower and colors unfolded in a timely manner.

Spring and summer weather can come into play

2019 was one of the slowest and lowest color shows in West Michigan history. In 2019, we were coming off of the wettest one, three, and five year time frames for the state. Ground water content was high. In 2020, temperatures also worked to confuse the trees. A wild warm stretch in November where highs surged into the 70s for several days in a row, muddled the change and made for a weaker show.

Remember, while the summer can help set the stage for a decent color show, it’s the week-by-week weather that really decides how great the display will be.