Autumn is here, but the fall colors that dress the San Juan Mountains in a golden hue have, for the most part, been late to the party.
But that’s all expected to change in the coming days and weeks.
Here are some things you need to know about how to get the best viewing out of fall’s colors:
Predicting the peakDan West, an entomologist with the Colorado State Forest Service, said predicting peak colors is no easy task.
“It’s just not an exact science because of all the variables,” he said.
Shortened days start to trigger leaves to change. Less sunlight means leaves stop producing as much chlorophyll, which is responsible for giving leaves their greenish hue during photosynthesis. In turn, other chemicals in leaves take dominance, which turn colors orange and yellow.
But West said the amount of sunlight a tree receives is not the only factor in predicting peak colors. Otherwise, it would be the same day every year.
Temperature, wind and precipitation all influence the timing, he said.
“There’s just so much that goes into it,” he said.
How to trackFor the past two decades or so, the U.S. Forest Service has maintained and operated a “Fall Colors Report” for the most up-to-date information about how fall color conditions are shaping up in the forest.
Devin Wanner, a spokesman for the Forest Service, said an email is sent to employees in the field each fall, asking staffers to report where trees are in the spectrum of the fall color process.
As of Tuesday, for instance, the area from Molas Pass to Silverton had reached about 80% of its expected peak colors. The town of Silverton tends to be one of the first areas to turn colors, the Forest Service says.
Recently, Wanner said Forest Service employees have been asked to take photos of the changing colors to be posted on the report and social media. He said the report is updated at least once a week, and sometimes more frequently depending on feedback from staffers.
What to expect this yearBecause of a cold spring, and a late start to summer, peak fall colors are showing up later than normal across the state, West said.
The highest elevations and latitude usually turn first during mid-September, he said, but in the northern part of the state, this process is happening about three weeks late.
West said trees in Southwest Colorado are just starting to turn.
Chris Cuoco, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said high winds the past few days may have knocked a good bit of leaves off trees in the area.
Over the next two days, overnight temperatures in Durango and at high elevations are expected to dip below freezing. Precipitation is also possible Thursday night into Friday, Cuoco said, all of which will affect changing leaves.
Watch safelyThose who set out to observe the fall splendor should do so safely, said Lisa Schwantes, spokeswoman with the Colorado Department of Transportation.
CDOT offers a number of tips for remaining safe while leaf-peeping, including:
Look out for other vehicles that may be traveling at slow speeds.Watch for vehicles pulling off the road, and vehicles parked on the sides of roads.Vehicles should find safe, designated areas to park.Never stop in the roadway.Watch for pedestrians, as people will be out of their vehicles with cameras.Pedestrians must be extremely diligent and watch for passing firstname.lastname@example.org