On Alabama 21, a white cotton field, ripe for harvest, sprawled in front of rust-colored hills. And in Piedmont, leaves crunched under skinny bicycle tires on The Chief Ladiga Trail, while cars crowded the parking lot at the Eubanks Welcome Center.
“I think fall is probably about the number one season,” said Eubanks volunteer Jerry Burns, who frequents the trail on his own bicycle. “People love the weather.”
Over the past week, fall colors emerged across northeastern Alabama, as the green landscapes were transformed by tufts of gold, orange, red and brown trees. And the colorful leaves could cling to the branches through mid-November, said David West, Calhoun County Extension Coordinator.
“I suppose this coming week, or the next two weeks, will be the peak for us,” West said. “It depends upon weather.”
As the days become shorter and the weather cooler, chlorophyll begins to seep out of the leaves. Once it’s gone, the sugars that remain in the leaves begin to determine their color, West said.
Most tree species emerge in the same hues each year. Sugar Maples are golden yellow and vibrant orange, Sassafras become burnt orange with golden highlights and Sweetgums take on a deep maroon color before they fall, according to the Arbor Day Foundation.
Sugar determines which color fall leaves become, but weather determines how vibrant they are, West said.
Cool nights followed by sunny days lead to vibrant fall hues, he said. West added that the fall display can also be affected by storms.
If the weather is relatively dry and calm after the leaves change colors, they will remain on display longer. But a windy storm can knock them from their branches and shake them to the ground early, he said.
The weather forecast through Tuesday calls for lows near 40 degrees and clear skies and highs between 60 and 70 degrees. Tuesday night the low will be slightly higher, at 51 and on Wednesday, cloud cover will be seen and the temperature will top out at about 70 degrees, according to the National Weather Service in Calera.
Meteorologists estimate a 60 percent chance of rain for Thursday. By Thursday night, showers should subside and the long range forecast calls for clearing skies and cooler temperatures through next weekend, said National Weather Service meteorologist Aaron Gleason.
“It’s going to be pretty similar to the last system we saw come through,” Gleason said referring to the rain.
That event included rain but only a small chance for a thunderstorm, he said.
A couple of other factors can determine whether the fall foliage is vibrant or not. A high level of rain in the fall, or summer droughts can also keep the leaves from developing vibrant colors, West said.
But, this year, West said, the trees leaves don’t seem to have been hindered from putting on a vibrant display of color.
“This year looks really nice,” West said, comparing the fall colors to the leaves from years past.
Karen Means of Gadsden and her granddaughter Shelby Dilorenzo, a freshman at Troy University, said from The Chief Ladiga Trail today that they weren’t disappointed by the display of fall colors. As first time visitors to the trail, they were cycling to celebrate Means’ 70th birthday.
“We are so blessed to live here,” Means said, referring to Alabama. “We love the fall colors.”
Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.