WATERLOO, Iowa --- Cool nights, moderate days and dry weather makes for a pretty color show.

Contrary to popular opinion --- and in spite of the drought --- the color isn't coming on early this year. In fact, it's about average. Signs of color are already appearing in Cedar Valley neighborhoods as autumn deepens and hard maples begin to turn

"We might be setting ourselves up to have a pretty fall foliage season. Initially we felt we'd see fall color early because of the hot and dry weather, but reports from foresters around the states show the trees don't agree with that theory," said Paul Tauke, Iowa Department of Natural Resources forestry bureau chief.

Eastern Iowa color should peak between the first and third weeks of October. Peak color occurs later in the more southern parts of the state, but it all depends on the weather. Some trees are already starting to drop leaves, which may be species-related, such as black walnuts, rather than due to drought stress, Tauke said.

Lots of heavy rain or an early frost will cause it to fizzle, though, and the quality of fall color varies each year throughout the state.

"Hot, dry weather typically favors good red color, so the reds could be brilliant," he said, adding the caveat, "If the nights stay cooler and days moderate, and we don't get a lot of heavy rain, it's shaping up to be a decent fall. Weather has an impact on the change, but a big part of the mechanism that controls fall color is day length."

Hard maples offer a range of reds, but soft maples, ash, cottonwood, elm, walnut, sumac and hickory are starting to change in Northeast Iowa. Most of the oaks are still green, but with sunny weather predicted for the rest of the week, color development should be good.

The color show has already started at Hartman Reserve Nature Center, said Director Ed Gruenwald.

White oaks, burr oaks, sugar maple, ash, basswood and wild black walnut populate this urban forest.

"It's going to be a particularly nice year for color. You can't beat it for nature photography, and I'm seeing photographers set up for portraits and family photos. Hiking is good because of the color --- and mosquitoes are pretty much gone," Gruenwald said.

For fall conditions across the state, call (515) 233-4110 or download the current fall report at www.iowadnr.gov/forestry/fallcolor.html.

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