Say hello to autumn — before it’s gone

A few fleeting weeks of coolness, not cold

Monday, September 23, 2013
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Eleni Hill, 5 years old, of Saratoga Springs, paints a pumpkin during the Henry Street Harvest Festival in Saratoga Springs on Sunday, September 22, 2013.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson
Eleni Hill, 5 years old, of Saratoga Springs, paints a pumpkin during the Henry Street Harvest Festival in Saratoga Springs on Sunday, September 22, 2013.

— For the Capital Region, fall means festivals, foliage and runners taking to the streets for sweat-free cardio.

Unfortunately, that light-jacket apple-picking weather doesn’t last long.

“It’s a pretty small window,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Frugis. “You don’t see the sort of average temperatures we get during fall for very long.”

Fall officially began Sunday with the autumnal equinox. The equinox basically marks the tipping point between hours of light and hours of darkness. Right now, day and night occupy roughly equal parts of the day, but the light is shrinking.

Before the short days of winter, there’s a sweet spot of cool sun. Frugis talked of upcoming 60-degree highs and lows in the 50s. That’s the sort of prime comfort weather that spawns a full array of seasonal festivals and a whole slew of cause-driven fun runs.

As leaves turn, roads and parks fill with comfortably cool cyclists and joggers. and Harley Davidsons rumble to life, leather-jacketed enthusiasts padded with sweaters for final rides.

It’s an end-run of sorts — people enjoying the outdoors before winter.

But if average citizens had Frugis’ meteorological training, they might get out even more, run a little harder, bike a little longer before the truly cold weather.

A transitional season

“Fall is a transitional season,” Frugis said, explaining how the summer-long southern breezes bringing ocean warmth to the area shift slowly over the fall’s weeks to suck cool, dry air from Canada.

There’s also the simple mathematics of sunlight. There’s less of it and it strikes the earth at a shallower angle each day, lessening each ray’s warming effect. That all adds up to one less average degree of warmth per day starting, according to Frugis, right about now.

“By late October we’ll be seeing highs in the 40s and lows below freezing,” he said.

So in just over a month, the big Harley-Davidsons of upstate New York likely will be stowed under canvas in garages. Bicycles will hang from rafters and hard-core runners will hit the pavement in insulated outerwear.

A warmer season?

There is just one glimmer of hope. Frugis said the National Weather Service predicts a warmer-than-usual fall. He couldn’t really elaborate.

“A three-month prediction is really hard to make,” he said. “Basically, the odds of having a warmer-than-usual fall are greater than getting a colder, or average fall.”

The numbers were too close to predict rain amounts with any degree of certainty, but he did say the odds of a massive region-crushing hurricane lessen with every day.

Prime hurricane season is early September. A Hurricane Sandy situation is still possible — the historic storm made landfall in late October — but it’s not likely at this point.

“That’s a relief after the last few years,” he said.

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