If you're looking to spot some fall tree color this first weekend of autumn, try using your smartphone.
The Missouri Department of Conservation recently updated its popular "MO Fall Colors" mobile app, which it developed last year. It provides users with the department's weekly fall color forecasts for locations around the state prepared using reports from community foresters. Users can also find autumnal sights close to them.
"Most people don't want to travel too far, but they still want to go out and see fall colors, so if they go on and click on the near me icon, they'll see photos that were submitted that were close to them," said the department's digital communications manager Chris Cloyd. "Then they can definitely click on the photo and find where those photos were taken so they can possibly drive out and see more fall colors."
Cloyd, who said he posted the app's first photo last year, said people also can share their own fall finds with other app users and post to their Facebook pages.
"That is the big draw of the app: letting people go outside, make discoveries and share those discoveries," he said.
So far the app has been downloaded a couple thousand times. In the future, Cloyd said the app may use geolocation to automatically update the weekly weather reports to the user's current whereabouts.
Good year for tree color
Even without that upgrade, Cloyd said he expects the app to be fairly popular this year, especially since the Department of Conservation predicts a pretty good year for fall color.
Community Forester Mark Grueber said Missouri's gotten the right amount of moisture. Last year, a drought led to more muted colors.
But Grueber says the recent weather will help foster vibrant hues. That's because as days get shorter in the lead up to winter, trees begin to conserve the energy they need sunlight to create. The trees form an abscission layer, which causes leaves to fall off so they don't cost the tree energy.
"Because of the stretch of weather that we're having of warmer days and cooler nights and lots and lots of sunshine, what that does is the trees start creating energy again...and with those cool nights, the energy in the form of sugars get trapped in the leaves, and those trapped sugars are what give us those vibrant fall colors," he said.
Where and when
The Department's most recent color report predicts the peak of fall color will be toward the end of October, but Gruber said it might come a little earlier in the St. Louis area. He said the first two weeks of October are a good time to see autumn's full palette. He noted that because it is generally warmer in the city, trees around St. Louis will turn later than outlying areas.
But Grueber said there are already some good places to go see fall color, including the area around the Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center. He also suggested taking Interstate 44 out toward Franklin County for nice vistas. The Department's website suggests going along rivers in the Meramec or Huzzah Conservation areas.
In the coming weeks, Grueber's recommendations include: taking the Great River Road in Illinois toward Pere Marquette State Park and driving along Interstate 70 toward St. Charles and Warren Counties.