West Virginia welcomes first day of autumn

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WEST VIRGINIA — Can you believe it? This year has flown by, as we have officially entered the autumnal equinox commonly known as fall. Sweater weather, pumpkin spice everything and leaf peeping season is now among us as we welcomed the first day of fall on Thursday, September 22. 

The Almanac describes the autumnal equinox as an astronomical event, marking the start of autumn or fall. In the Northern Hemisphere, the autumnal equinox occurs in September; in the Southern Hemisphere, it occurs in March. With that said that days become shorter as the sun rises later and nightfall arrives earlier. This change has a lot to do with why and when the leaves change color. 

During spring and summer, leaves go through a food-making process where numerous cells which contain chlorophyll provide the bright green leaves. Chlorophyll absorbs the energy from sunlight and transforms carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates like sugar and starch. However, in the fall when the days are shorter and the temperature also changes, leaves stop this process. This causes the chlorophyll to break down and changes the green leaves to shades of red, orange, yellow, purple or brown. There are more chemical changes that may occur based on the types of trees. The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry stated, “Some mixtures give rise to the reddish and purplish fall colors of trees, such as dogwoods and sumacs, while others give the sugar maple its brilliant orange. The autumn foliage of some trees show only yellow colors. Others, like many oaks, display mostly browns. All these colors are due to the mixing of varying amounts of the chlorophyll residue and other pigments in the leaf during the fall season.”

Other changes also take place, including, “Where the stem of the leaf is attached to the tree, a special layer of cells develops and gradually severs the tissues that support the leaf. At the same time, the tree seals the cut, so that when the leaf is finally blown off by the wind or falls from its own weight, it leaves behind a leaf scar,” said SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. The college also shared, “Most of the broad-leaved trees in the north shed their leaves in the fall. However, the dead brown leaves of the oaks and a few other species may stay on the tree until growth starts again in the spring. In the south, where the winters are mild, some of the broad-leaved trees are evergreen; that is, the leaves stay on the trees during winter and keep their green color. Most of the conifers - pines, spruces, firs, hemlocks, cedars, etc. - are evergreen in both the north and south. The needle, or scale-like leaves, remain green or greenish the year round and individual leaves may stay on for two to four or more years.” 

With that in mind, West Virginia Tourism has released a Fall Foliage Map to show estimated peak foliage. Upshur County is predicted to have peak foliage from early to mid-October. W.Va. Tourism says that our state is the third-most forested state in the United States and that “Fall in West Virginia is nothing short of breathtaking.” Visit wvtourism.com to view the map, as well as a live leaf map, updated in real-time. The site also provides photos and tips for Fall Foliage Road Trips throughout the state.

West Virginia Log Cabins provided a list on their website also of locations with their peak foliage timeline. They say that peak foliage in late September can be seen at Spruce Knob, Dolly Sods and Canaan Valley. Peak foliage in late September to early October is noted to be seen at Blackwater Falls and peak foliage in mid to late October can be viewed at Seneca Rock and Harman’s Luxury Log Cabins. Visit wvlogcabins.com for more details. 

Tips for leaf peeping from various sources are to bring snacks, plan for pit stops and make sure to sample or purchase homemade goodies, such as apple cider and apple pie. Most of all, it is meant to be fun and relaxing so really take the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful views, crisp air and make lasting memories!

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