A hint of winter, complete with snow flurries, touched the county this week. For a while, it had seemed that we might not have any wintry weather at all, inasmuch as the colors of fall foliage didn’t seem to reach their peak in intensity until about a week ago.
Here in Rappahannock, as well as apparently up the East Coast into New England, leaf colors indeed seemed to come much later this year than in the past — by as much as six to 10 days. That’s what people who are knowledgeable about such things tell me.
And from my own personal history, I remember the day of my daughter’s birth in mid-October more years ago than I like to acknowledge — looking out the Fairfax hospital window and remarking on the beautiful burst of color. That same burst happens incrementally later each year, it appears to my aging eyesight.
Scientific measurement of something as subjective as leaf color is, of course, impossible. Moreover, the variables involved in the changing of the leaves are many and complex. Phenology, which seeks to understand and control for these variables, is the study of timing in nature — not just changing leaves but also geese heading south.
Already, these scientists have documented an earlier-arriving spring, not just in this part of the United States but in Europe and Japan as well. The budding of plants is predicted almost solely on warming temperatures; but fall foliage is determined by not just temperature but also by light, moisture and other difficult-to-measure variables.
Shrinking on both the start dates and the end dates, winter may soon no longer be worthy of the name.
Does this mean the Earth’s climate is quickly and radically changing? Are we responsible? You tell me.