Never mind all the summer weekend washouts, as Minnesota racked up one of the wettest years on record. The bonus may be a spectacular fall color show that will paint the landscape in vivid reds, yellows and oranges.
“It should be brilliant,” said Val Cervenka, forest health program consultant at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and one of the state’s unofficial fall color predictors.
All the rain helped trees stay healthy and green, she said. Now fall can work its magic as fewer daylight hours, along with sunny days and cooler nights, transform summer’s lush, green landscape into a mosaic of fall colors.
The DNR began the official countdown Thursday with its first fall color update and online map, which tracks where the trees are changing as fall sweeps from the state’s North Woods to its expansive prairies in the south.
Some maples in northern Minnesota are just getting a tinge of red and orange, said Kjersti Vick, spokeswoman for Visit Cook County Minnesota. As the color spreads and deepens, people will flock north. “They drive the back roads and hike the trails, soaking in all that fall glory,” she said.
The fall color travel season is big in Minnesota, racking up a quarter of the $15.3 billion in annual tourism revenue, said Alyssa Hayes, spokeswoman for Explore Minnesota.
Exactly how spectacular the fall color show will be depends on the weather to come, Cervenka said.
“In order to get the reds and the purples, you need sugars to be produced. And for that you need a lot of sun,” she said. “Then you need cool nights to keep the sugar from moving out of the leaves.”
So if the weather cooperates, trees like maples, red oak and white oak will turn red. For trees like ginkgo, basswood, aspen and birch, all of which turn yellow, it’s just a matter of decreasing daylight needed to shut down chlorophyll production.
While this season’s healthy dose of rain kept most trees healthy, others may have suffered stress from standing along rivers and creeks that overflowed or where saturated ground never dried out, Cervenka said.
“It could make them turn early and they may not get their full color,” she said. For example, Fort Snelling State Park is reportedly at 10 to 25% of peak color already, Cervenka said.
Meanwhile, last month’s cooler temperatures Up North may cause some trees to turn color a tad earlier than usual, said Minnesota climatologist Mark Seeley.
“We had a number of mornings, especially in northern Minnesota, where temperatures fell into the 30s,” he said.
The beauty of changing colors, however, isn’t the only reason fall draws people out and about.
“For a lot of Minnesotans, autumn is the favorite season,” Seeley said. Beauty and wonder are found in bird migrations, brilliant sunsets and spectacular cloud formations.
“In the fall, we get almost every cloud there is,” Seeley said. “You find more vivid, almost artistic presentations, in the sky.”
And for many, comfortable temperatures and fewer bugs make it easier to be outside, he added. “People can go with short sleeves during the day and then show off their fancy sweaters at night. It’s just pleasant to be outdoors.”
Even if fall colors fall flat, people will flock to apple orchards, fall festivals, fish boils and hayrides, Seeley said.
“They take the last canoe or kayak ride,” he said. “There are a ton of Minnesota traditions associated with fall. It’s like: ‘Let’s get all this done before we have to keep the doors closed and windows closed.’ ”
Here's the DNR’s fall color finder.