Virginians are seeing more summer baseball weather than fall football weather this October.
Mike Sporer, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, said it has been extremely unusual to have such high temperatures in the area right now.
“We’re setting records all over the place,” he said. “We’re locked in an area that had high pressure parked over us.”
Wednesday’s high temperature of 96 degrees in Lynchburg shattered the record of 88 degrees set in 1905, according to the National Weather Service. Today’s forecast high is again in the 90s — putting the record for today of 94 degrees, set in 1919, in jeopardy.
And that’s on top of September, when Lynchburg’s average temperature was 74.6 degrees. The month tied with September 1895 and September 1925 for the third-warmest on record for the city, according to National Weather Service data.
The unseasonable warm weather, coupled with below-average rainfall for this time of year, is affecting fall foliage in Central Virginia. One way plants and trees deal with the stress of lack of water and continued heat is to begin dropping leaves.
According to the Fall Foliage Report from the Virginia Department of Forestry for the weekend of Sept. 28, the usual dark green colors of the forest have begun to fade to a yellower shade of green. It states some of the change is due to drought and some is due to the changing of seasons.
Longer and cooler nights trigger changes in the pigments that give leaves their color. Under normal conditions the change begins in the western and higher-elevation areas and progresses eastward and downward to lower altitudes. Peak fall foliage for this region is around mid-October, DOF states.
Sporer said some of the leaves on the deciduous trees have skipped the phase of turning yellow, red or orange and turned straight to brown due to the lack of rain and high temperatures the region has seen during the past month. Depending on what time of year this takes place, the trees can recover, Sporer said, but once it gets closer to October and temperatures are still higher than normal with little rainfall, the trees don’t have enough time to withstand that deficit.
“By now, the course is set for the fall; it’s too late for the trees to make any meaningful recovery,” he said.
That’s not to say residents of Central Virginia won’t see any fall colors at all.
“We will definitely see some degree of color,” Sporer said. “Even though a lot of places have been dry, some areas are hit-or-missed by thunderstorms, so some patches are luckier than others. There is still some hope out there.”
Looking toward the next few weeks, the weather will normalize and the area will begin seeing cooler temperatures in the lower 70s, he said. By Saturday, temperatures are expected to top out below 70 degrees and then drop below 50 degrees overnight.
Leesa Brandon, public information officer with the National Parks Service, said last October the Blue Ridge Parkway saw about 2 million visitors. Regardless of weather, people still come up to catch a glimpse of the various mountain views.
“The nice thing about the parkway is we have such a variety of elevations and species,” she said. “It’s hard in October to not find some pretty colors anywhere. There’s a show somewhere on the parkway in October historically.”
October and July are the busiest months on the parkway, Brandon said, so she advised drivers to be safe and keep their eyes on the road and not be distracted by the beautiful colors. She said there are plenty of overlooks to park and take in the views.
Andrew Mather is general manager at the Peaks of Otter Lodge, located right off the parkway in Bedford County. He said there have been years like this weather-wise, but the majority of guests of the lodge book in advance and don’t base their visit on the color of the leaves.
He said many of them know peak foliage is around the third or fourth week of October, so the lodge is busiest then and most of the 63 rooms are sold out.
“This year fall foliage might be a little earlier and we were seeing more color in mid-September, so we put that up on our social media,” he said. “We’re certainly having some good color up here. I wouldn’t say it’s vibrant, but the leaves are definitely falling.”