Autumn is coming: What to know about fall colors


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The days are getting shorter and our sleeves are getting longer.

Fall is quickly approaching, which means another spectacular color show is on the horizon. 

Michigan is known for its brilliant displays. The show starts first in our far northern regions.

According to the Michigan State University Extension, the Upper Peninsula usually being to transform in mid-to-late September.

In the lower peninsula, fall colors hit its peak brilliance in mid-October, on average. Towns and trees boarding the lakeshore are often delayed a bit from that normal peak.

Why do leaves change color?

Leaves change color every year primarily due to the shortening days. Trees become aware they are receiving less incoming solar energy, so they shake their leaves to conserve energy before the long nights of winter approach.

During that time the chlorophyll in the leaves (which makes them appear green) begins to break down. The green fades, revealing the true color of the leaves underneath.

In some cases, like with red leaves, the chemicals that stain the leaves red gradually grow in the leaf at the same time the chlorophyll decays!

>>Photos: Fall colors in Michigan

How does weather impact a color show?

We can always expect the leaves to change, but the way in which the transition happens can make the difference between a jaw-dropping year and a standard fall.

Weather can play a key role in this. If the weather stays quiet with warm days and cool nights, the trees will all burst into color together with a fantastic display.

Years where drought is present can often lead to fast leaf drop, shortening the show. Wet years can mean trees hold onto their leaves longer, but they can also be much slower to turn. If leaves wait too long, they will be at the risk of a freeze, which will kill the show dead in a day.

Windy days can also increase leaf drop. The worst displays are years where entire regions drop well below freezing too early in the year.

Colorful trees you’re sure to notice

This list by the Michigan State University Extension talks about our best color-producers in the state.

Sugar Maples: These trees pepper the state and are quick to turn gold and orange, adding flair to any drive in the Mitten during peak fall.

Red Maples: Like their name suggests, these trees bring a bright pop of red color as their small leaves transition into fall.

Aspens: These trees shine with tiny circular yellow leaves as fall unfolds.

Hickories: Look for trees with longer leaves that turn yellow and trees that have bark that peels to help know that you are looking at a Hickory tree.

Oak: Although oak trees are prevalent in the area, they often only add to a color show by providing rich dusty yellows and browns to the display.

What’s your favorite spot to see the fall colors?

We want to know what our viewers’ favorite spots to see fall colors. We gave some suggestions below, but tell us your best spots. News 8 will share the results in a couple of weeks.

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