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Toasty turns frosty this weekend.
A cold front moving through late Friday into early Saturday – the first true autumn cold front of the season – will bring a sharp drop in temperatures across Southwest and Southside Virginia, as mid-70s to lower 80s highs will give way to mostly 50s and 60s highs Saturday through Monday, and morning lows Sunday and Monday morning will drop into the 30s to lower 40s over much of the region.
Many locations west of the Blue Ridge may see frost or even near-freezing lows by Monday morning, and some isolated spots to the east may also. This isn’t expected to be the widespread, killing hard freeze that will come at some later point this autumn, but you would be advised to think about how to protect tender plants or move them inside.
While temperatures will rebound into next week, signals point to warm high pressure being centered more over the Western U.S. than over the East, and that will likely push more cold fronts southeastward with new reinforcements of cooler air into mid-month.
At this point, the pattern does not suggest early wintry cold for our region, but rather a fairly typical October alteration of cool shots and warmups. This should be enough to get the leaves changing a little faster and put a coating of frost on some pumpkins, from time to time.
What doesn’t look likely in the near future is substantial rainfall, as storm systems propelled southeastward will generally not tap the Gulf of Mexico or the western Atlantic for deep moisture, and any tropical systems that form in what appears to be a waning though not yet ending Atlantic hurricane season will likely stay well out to sea.
The cold front may kick up a few light showers as it passes through late Friday and early Saturday, and upslope flow behind the front may cause a few to form in West Virginia and drift over the border into the western fringe of the state during the day Saturday. It is highly possible that some of the showers on Saturday will contain the season’s first snowflakes in the highest elevations of eastern West Virginia, such as around Snowshoe and Canaan Valley.
We are now a week and a half beyond the uneven rainfall from Tropical Storm Ophelia and significant drought has continued to spread southward from the long and severely dry Shenandoah Valley. Moderate drought had reached northern Franklin County in last week’s U.S. Drought Monitor, with abnormally dry conditions over most of the New River Valley eastward into Southside, excluding the area immediately north of the North Carolina border. (A new Drought Monitor map will post Thursday, based on data through Tuesday).
There is no sign yet of the enhanced southern branch of the jet stream that often kicks in during the fall with El Niño, the irregularly recurring warming of equatorial Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures now ongoing and having reached a “moderate” level, though it is still a bit early in the season to expect that.
With more windy cold fronts passing as we move deeper into fall, the dryness raises the specter of wildfires, which typically increase in fall even with average levels of moisture, more so with dried-out surface fuels that will soon gain a layer of falling leaves.
So go ahead, order your pumpkin spice and get your sweaters out of moth balls as we start experiencing some cooler days, but beware of the dangers of starting fires and don’t be sour about some much-needed soggy days if those develop a little later in the month.
Color is starting to show in some trees along and west of the Blue Ridge, and will begin to do so moving eastward soon.
Fall foliage does not change primarily based on weather conditions, but on shortening lengths of daylight with the fall season. Weather conditions, however, such as temperature and moisture levels, can help the leaves turn somewhat earlier or later, or cause the colors to last shorter or longer, than they would otherwise.
We’re off to a bit later start with fall foliage than we were a year ago. We had a cooler latter half of September a year ago and downright cold weather in early October, leading to a quicker change of fall foliage over much of our region than we had seen in several years, as the first two regular Wednesday columns I wrote for Cardinal News, hyperlinked in this sentence, discussed.
A new online tool to keep up with where colors have turned and are expected to turn is Explore Fall, at www.explorefall.com. Explore Fall was launched earlier this year by Evan Fisher, a North Carolina meteorologist; Peter Forister, a Virginia storm chaser and Virginia Tech alum whose work you’ve seen previously here in the Cardinal Weather column; and Kyle Cotner of the The Foliage Report (thefoliageerport.com), which also tracks how foliage is changing on a state and regional level.
“Our platform is centered around a fall foliage map like none other, allowing travelers to find beautiful fall colors and plan their trips accordingly,” states the Explore Fall website, which offers daily updates and 10-day forecasts on foliage. “None of this would be possible without our cutting-edge, in-house fall foliage model that evaluates real-time weather conditions and predicts how colorful fall foliage is throughout the Lower 48. Don’t get us wrong, we haven’t cracked the exact recipe for the progression of fall foliage, but our statistical approach allows us to minimize potential errors and quantify fall color.”
As you explore fall in Southwest and Southside Virginia, whether that means a drive, a hike, or simply the striking colors you see out your window or on your way to work, please send me some of your photos for use here in the Cardinal Weather column and possible consideration as Photo of the Week in the weekly Cardinal Weather newsletter. You can email photos to email@example.com or send them to me on my Twitter/X handle, @KevinMyattWx.
While there is some concern about dryness dulling or shortening autumn colors in parts of our region, my experience is that virtually every fall, there is vivid color somewhere in our region, due to local variances in weather factors, geography or tree varieties. The one tree in your backyard might be the most brilliant. Let us see it.
Journalist Kevin Myatt has been writing about weather for 20 years. His weekly column, appearing on Wednesdays, is sponsored by Oakey’s, a family-run, locally-owned funeral home with locations throughout the Roanoke Valley.