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Fall colors in Iowa: Will wet weather dampen fall foliage?

Rain may drown out deep reds, but there's still hope: Peak viewing is third week of October

Leaves show their fall colors along 107th St. in rural Marengo, Iowa, on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Leaves show their fall colors along 107th St. in rural Marengo, Iowa, on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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Potential flooding isn’t the only reason to be bummed about the onslaught of recent rain. All the precipitation being dumped across Eastern Iowa might squelch the best of the region’s fall color.

“For good fall color, the recipe I usually think of is cool nights, sunny days and not a lot of excess rain. Those are three things we have not seen a lot of yet,” said Iowa Department of Natural Resources district forester David Asche.

Wind combined with rain can also dampen chances for a strong leaf season, as leaves can blow off trees before they have time to fully change color.

That doesn’t mean there’s no hope for a colorful fall foliage show.

“It’s weather- and temperature-dependent. If we quit getting rain and get some cool nights, things could change,” Asche said.

The DNR reports fall colors typically peak in northeast Iowa during the weekend closest to Oct. 10, with the color peak occurring progressively later farther south. For the Cedar Rapids area, peak color typically happens the first through third weeks in October.

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Current DNR forecasts estimate peak viewing in central Iowa will fall in the third week of October, with peak viewing around Oct. 13 in northeast Iowa and Oct. 20 in southeast Iowa.

“I’m hoping it’s just delayed a couple of weeks,” Asche said.

His district covers Allamakee, Clayton, Delaware and Buchanan counties. District forester Mark Vitosh covers Linn, Johnson, Poweshiek, Iowa, Benton, Jasper and Muscatine counties. Both said they’ve seen plenty of yellow leaves on trees like green ash, walnut, cottonwood, elm and honey locust, with reds and oranges just beginning to develop on trees like hard maple, red oak, sumac and dogwood.

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Vitosh said in trees with yellow fall leaves, the color was already present before the current weather, so those colors will develop regardless of temperatures.

“Their colors are already there, They’re underneath the green — it’s a matter of the green pigment getting removed and showing the yellows. But some of the reds are not produced until this time of year, like in maples,” he said. “Some of the key components to brightness and better color are clear days and cool nights. Things may not be as bright this year, but if it changes in the next week or so, it could help.”

Still, he emphasized such predictions are far from perfect science.

“The bottom line, usually, is I’m not a good predictor. It’s really hard to predict fall color,” he said.

Leaf viewing enthusiasts can sign up for the DNR’s weekly fall color report online at iowadnr.gov/Conservation/Forestry/Fall-Color at or call 515-233-4110 for the latest conditions across the state.

l Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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