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Fall foliage: Mostly green, but a few colors are slowly starting to pop out

As we get into autumn, fall colors will start to show off in places like the Shenandoah National Park.

WASHINGTON — It's that time of year again: pumpkin spice flavored everything is taking over. A sign that fall is soon approaching. 

The leaves on the trees are sure to follow the annual routine of changing from green to vibrant hues of orange, yellow and red. 

Right now most areas are still green, but it won't be long before fall colors start displaying a show across Virginia, Maryland and D.C. 

Fall colors are slowly starting to pop up in Shenandoah Valley, with leaves on a handful of trees starting to change color. It is still mostly green. 

The Virginia Department of Forestry reported that changes are slowly underway. 

"Virginia’s forests are still mostly green, but some trees have begun “the great fade,” turning a washed-out green as chlorophyll production slows," the agency wrote on its website. 

The department noted that a few species were already changing, such as black gum and dogwood, the Virginia State tree. 

Fall officially starts on Thursday, September 22 at 9:04 p.m. Eastern. The Smokey Mountain 2022 Fall Foliage Prediction Map, estimates minimal color change across parts of the DMV by September 26th. This includes northern and western suburbs and Maryland and Virginia, Shenandoah National Park. The prediction map shows the potential for noticeable color change around most of the region by October 3rd. 

One of the most popular places to view the fall colors is in Shenandoah National Park. It's usually one of the first places that fall colors appear in the region.  

The National Park Service is still encouraging people to make their reservations early to view the fall colors early, as the park gets busy and campground time slots fill up. 

RELATED: NOVA Parks is green and going greener

For the immediate D.C. Metro area, fall colors usually don't show up until the middle to end of October. 

We will likely start to see some light and patchy color change in the first two weeks of October with more hints of color after October 15.  On average, around D.C. fall colors peak around November 7; inside the Beltway around October 31; northern and western suburbs around October 24; Skyline Drive around October 16; and Garrett County around October 10.    

Credit: wx

Here are some estimates of when the fall colors will peak in Virginia in 2022, courtesy of the Virginia Department of Forestry.  

Early October: areas like Bristol, Blacksburg and Roanoke. 

The department anticipates colors to start showing up in early to mid-October for areas like Winchester and Danville. 

It may not be until the middle of October for fall colors in Alexandria, Richmond and Fredericksburg. Colors will likely not show up until late October for areas like Norfolk and Virginia Beach, based on the department's estimates. 

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Why Leaves Change Colors

Leaves change colors when plants have less chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is a pigment in plant cells that gives leaves a vibrant green color. With chlorophyll taking a back seat, the hues of red, orange and yellow show up. 

Now let's dig into that explanation a bit further. In spring and summer, longer hours of daylight aid in the production of chlorophyll.   

Chlorophyll absorbs sunlight and processes energy from the sun to make sugars and starches that trees use for food.  

In the fall, daylight hours are shorter, meaning less time in the sun to produce chlorophyll. When chlorophyll production slows and is cut off, instead of green, the other brilliant colors are unmasked from the other pigments in the leaves. Carotenoids give leaves their yellow and orange colors. Anthocyanin gives leaves hues of red.

Keep checking back with the WUSA 9 Weather Team, as we'll begin tracking the fall colors weekly as they begin to change next month!

RELATED: Here's why you should avoid raking your leaves


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