MASON COUNTY — As temperatures start to fall and leaves begin to change, locals can start kicking off the air conditioner and open up their windows to feel the cool autumn breeze as the season officially changes.
For the year 2012, today, Sept. 22, is known as the autumnal equinox, or the first day of autumn. On this day of equinox, which comes from the Latin words for “equal nights,” the amount of daylight and darkness will last approximately 12 hours each and the days following will begin to get shorter.
Along with shorter days comes another highlight of the autumn season, which is watching the leaves turn beautiful shades of red, orange, and yellow, also known as foliage. While some leaves have already begun that process, local WVU Extension Agent Rodney Wallbrown stated the peak of the fall foliage season for Mason County will most likely be around mid to late October.
According to a release from the West Virginia Division of Forestry, some areas of the state of West Virginia may experience their peak of foliage early than expected due to the dry weather from this past summer. According to Wallbrown, when there is a drought, the foliage of the leaves will typically not be as beautiful. Wallbrown also added since the area has experienced some rain before the leaves began to change this season, it may help Mason County’s foliage to still produce the well-known and beloved colors.
The Division of Forestry also briefly explained the science behind why leaves change colors in the fall, stating it’s a process known as photoperiodism. It was reported that as the sun moves further south and days become shorter and temperatures fall, the leaves begin to produce less chlorophyll, which is the chemical that makes the leaves green. As the amount of chlorophyll decreases, other pigments in the leaves become more prevalent, giving the leaf a new color.
“It’s just a natural way of the leaf dying and the tree shutting down for winter,” Wallbrown said on the foliage of tree leaves.
As the temperatures continue to drop as the season goes on, the chance of having frost also increases. Wallbrown stated the expected frost date for Mason County is normally around the middle of October, but it may be possible to go into November before a frost comes. But Wallbrown also stated the frost date is somewhat questionable, saying sometimes there is a day or two with frost and then temperatures will rise again for a few more weeks. In this case, Wallbrown says his usual advice for gardeners who want to save their plants as long as possible is to cover the plants when frost is first possible and then the plants may still survive for a few more weeks.