Expect earlier 'call of colors' in Iowa

Dry summer will make season shorter, too

Some trees have started changing from green to yellow at Squaw Creek Park in Marion. (Liz Martin/The Gazett)
Some trees have started changing from green to yellow at Squaw Creek Park in Marion. (Liz Martin/The Gazett)

Carolyn Goforth will let Mother Nature do her decorating when she gets married Saturday.

“The ceremony will be at Pikes Peak State Park, and the leaves are really starting to look pretty,” the interim executive director of the McGregor-Marquette Chamber of Commerce said Tuesday.

Goforth, whose interest in fall foliage extends beyond her wedding to the enjoyment of the thousands of tourists who flood northeast Iowa each autumn, said she was worried that the 2012 drought would cause the leaves to turn brown and drop off with little if any colorful display.

So too were Department of Natural Resources foresters Bruce Blair and Mark Vitosh before cooler, damper weather in late August and September allayed their concerns.

Blair, the DNR District forester in Elkader, said severe drought can impact leaf size, vigor and physiology and cause some leaves to fall even before they change color.

Vitosh, whose district includes Linn and Johnson counties, said he saw worrisome symptoms before the drought loosened its grip.

Bottomland species like silver maple, river birch and cottonwood were dropping their leaves early, he said.

Now, despite predictions by for-profit forecaster that Iowa and other hard-hit drought states “are probably not going to have a good display of fall foliage this year,” Blair and Vitosh are already seeing signs of a colorful fall.


But, like almost every other natural event this year, including the first widespread frost on Sunday morning, fall colors will arrive early, they say.

“I would say it’s about 10 days early,” Blair said.

Interviewed on Sept. 20, Blair said the sumacs and maples in Clayton County “look like they should on Oct. 1.”

“It’s at least a week early,” said Mary Beth Theis, who has an excellent vantage driving the Great River Road from her Balltown home to her job as director of Guttenberg Development and Tourism.

“It might even be two weeks early this year,” said Darla Kelchen, director of the Clayton County Development Group in Elkader.

Whereas peak color usually occurs there in mid-October, the first weekend of the month “could be prime time this year,” Kelchen said.

Vitosh said leaf lookers would be well advised not to bet on the traditional peak weekend. “Be ready and go when it’s pretty,” he said.

Both Blair and Vitosh said hard frosts and windy rainstorms can quickly strip trees of their colorful leaves.

Vitosh said he still worries about the drought’s impact on trees’ long-term health.

Extreme events like this year’s drought stresses trees and makes them more vulnerable to disease and infestation, he said.

“The drought rang their bell. Another dry year could be fatal,” he said.

If next year is anywhere near as dry as this one, “you would see some big trees dying,” Blair said.


Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!

You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.

Dendrochronologists examining the rings of tree trunks a hundred years from now should have no difficulty spotting this year’s slim growth ring, he said.

Capture fall images of Eastern Iowa

Be sure to send in your Fall Call of the Colors Photo Contest entry. Deadline is Nov. 1.

The Gazette staff will select five photos to be published in The Gazette. Photos must be of an Iowa scene. Entries must include your name, address, phone number and full caption information including when, where and if there are people in the photo, names and hometowns of the people.

Only digital images will be accepted. For more rules or to enter your photos, click here. Need some help capturing that special picture? The Gazette will offer some photo tips Oct. 12 in Living.




Authorities have not yet found a motive for the October 2017 Las Vegas massacre but have concluded there is no evidence of any political or ideological radicalization that would explain why Stephen Paddock opened fire on a country ...

CEDAR RAPIDS - Cargill's acquisition of Diamond V should change very little for the Cedar Rapids animal nutrition company, the CEOs for both said Friday.'This is a story about growth. This isn't a story about, how can we squeeze a ...

Give us feedback

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Tell us here.

Do you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.