How do the leaves change their color?


CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – With Labor Day gone in north-central West Virginia, some spots across the region are already seeing Fall. In all its glory, that means the leaves are beginning to change.

Mainly in the foothills and high peaks, oranges, yellows and reds are starting to peek out of hibernation on the trees, and are coming out to ‘strut their stuff’.

The leaves already are changing their colors throughout the region.

Along the I-79 corridor, there are a minimal number of leaves changing their colors, whereas more bright colors are popping as you go higher in elevation.

Why do the leaves change?

Leaves change color during the weeks of Autumn because of a few things: a shorter amount of daylight, cooler temperatures, wider gaps in daytime temperatures, as well as drier conditions on average. Due to these factors, the food-making process for plants stop.

Blackwater Falls State Park in October 2019. Courtesy: Scott Sincoff

According to the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, this causes the chlorophyll to break down and make the green color of the leaves fade away. The natural red, orange, and yellow pigments come out with a lack of chlorophyll before the leaves on oak and maple trees die for the Winter.

Temperature, moisture and water supply, as well as the amount of light, influence the intensity and length of fall color. Rainy and cloudy days increase the brightness and display of fall colors. Colder, but still above-average temperatures bring out brighter oranges and reds in sugar maple trees. Frost, however, will weaken the fall colors.

The peak colors within West Virginia will peak once Astronomical Fall begins toward the end of September.

Peak fall colors will likely be brightest in West Virginia in very late September through mid-October

Peak fall colors in the Mountain State depend on elevation. The highest peaks, mainly above 2,500 feet in elevation, will likely see their peak colors from very late September through the first 10 days of October. As you go lower in elevation, the colors will take a little longer to pop. Colors will be brightest in the beginning to middle of October.

If you have any photographs of fall foliage across the Mountain State, please email them to or send them on Facebook or Twitter.

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