Fall Colors: How does the weather change the leaves?

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The fall season is a time of the year that many of us look forward to...if not for the cooler temperatures following a long hot summer, then the beautiful splashes of color that begin to emerge every October. So, is the weather to blame for the changing leaves?

As the summer ends and autumn arrives, the trees know that it's time to get ready for winter's cold.

Leaves are nature's food factories, they take water from the ground, carbon dioxide from the air, then use sunlight to produce oxygen and glucose as food for energy. This is a process we learned about in school, and it's known as photosynthesis. Chlorophyll is the substance that helps photosynthesis happen and it gives leaves their green color.

As the days get shorter and shorter, chlorophyll production slows down, then eventually stops. The green color of the leaves fades away allowing the hidden yellow, red, and orange colors in the leaves to be unmasked.

So, it's actually the amount of daylight that triggers the change in the leaves...but the weather plays an important role too. The amount and brilliance of the colors that develop are related to temperatures, and how much moisture is in the soil.

The combination of these two factors ensures that each season is unique

So what is the perfect recipe? That would include plentiful spring and summer rains followed by warm, sunny autumn days and crisp, cool, but not freezing nights. This set of conditions often produces Mother Nature's most brilliant color displays.

The peak viewing here in Richmond is typically during the first few weeks of November.

If you're interested in learning more about peak viewing in other parts of Virginia, and to get a weekly color update, you can visit the Virginia Department of Forestry website.

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