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Weather will determine whether fall colors are muted or vibrant

Published 10:45am Thursday, September 12, 2013

Fall colors are showing up early again this year, and could be muted dry conditions persist in southeast Minnesota.

“It all depends on the weather,” said Don Mueller, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources forest supervisor. “Trees under stress color early.”

Mower and Freeborn counties may be in a little better state than counties to the east. Mower is in a pocket of abnormally dry conditions, as is eastern Freeborn County. But western Freeborn, parts of Olmsted and Fillmore, Winona, Wabasha and Houston counties are in a moderate drought.

Last year’s hot and dry summer resulted in an early showing and leaves that fell from trees early. This year’s weather mix could have a more complex impact on fall colors.

Southeast Minnesota saw a cool and wet spring, along with cooler temperatures during portions of the summer. That, coupled with the current hot and dry weather, could mean an early and quick fall color show as leaves turn or die and drop from trees quickly.

Other DNR officials are being more optimistic, as a press release called for vibrant autumn.

“We’re predicting it will be a brilliant fall color season,” Patricia Arndt, the DNR’s communications and outreach manager of Parks and Trails, said in a press release. “Although it’s been dry lately, the trees got adequate rain earlier this season. Now we just need a combination of sunny days and cool nights in the weeks ahead to bring out the fall colors. We’ve timed many of our fall hiking, biking, geocaching and paddling programs at Minnesota state parks and trails to coincide with peak color, and we hope to see lots of people getting outdoors to enjoy this beautiful time of year.”

Colors typically peak between mid-September and early October in the northern third of the state, between late September and early October in the central third and between late September and mid-October in the southern third and the Twin Cities.

Mueller said the southeast region of the state also tends to have a rolling wave of colors, as tree species like aspen change color first, then maples with brilliant oranges and reds, and finally species like oak that change in October or early November.

Most trees in Minnesota are still pretty green this week, but there are some already turning or dropping leaves in the region, including in Great River Bluffs State Park near Winona. Park manager Rick Samples said the leaves in the park could turn early this year, but since the park saw a late winter and spring, he thought fall might also follow suit.

“We had a really good summer,” Samples said. “I hope that continues and we have a really good fall.”

While this year’s weather conditions are pointing toward an earlier fall color season, the quality of the color show is still up in the air.

Dry conditions can mute colors, or turn them toward yellows and browns. But the wet spring and early summer push colors to be more vibrant.

“We will probably have a better show than we would have had with an extremely dry summer,” Mueller said. “Drought aside, when you have warm sunny days and cool nights in the autumn, that’s when we get the best fall color.”

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