One might say that Autumn was late in coming this year. The weather pattern through September and early October has been warm, even hot, and sunny. The cold rain that chills everything and everyone has been markedly absent this year. Until it did come, almost with a vengeance, to finally drive back the unusually lengthened summer.

A period of warmer autumn weather, which often follows a frost, has historically been called “Indian Summer”. The term was most likely originally used to refer to a period of favorable hunting weather after a cold snap in late summer or early autumn. Some years the briefly chilly weather is even more brief than usual, sometimes just a couple of days. In any case, that period of warmer weather is welcome before cold settles in earnest.

An autumn vineyard

In some years, “autumn” has three different start dates. Astronomical autumn is based on the autumnal equinox and that occurs between September 21 and 23, depending on Leap Years and the elliptical shape of Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Meteorological fall begins on September 1 and lasts through November 30. And “solar autumn” runs from August through October.

There is also what I call a “variable autumn” which is based on perceptions of changes in weather patterns, temperatures, and local folk wisdom of various kinds. This is extremely local and rarely to two adjacent geographic areas experience the start of variable autumn in quite the same way or even at the same time. The local variability is what makes weather observation so much fun.

This local variability can allow for some autumn experiences to be repeated across a landscape. For example, the changing color palette of deciduous leaves often follows a north to south pattern. Sometimes, however, one can find differences locally that show the most spectacular color variations, even if an area is determined to be past “peak color”.

Autumn is generally a soft, damp season that is marked by cooler temperatures, greyer skies, and usually increased rain. It is a time when windows for photography open and close with almost startling quickness. Sometimes the weather changes so fast it is impossible to grab the camera gear and make it to a location before the conditions are unsuitable. It is a good time for bonfires, wool shirts, bourbon, and wet weather clothing. Autumn helps us ease from summer into winter with a minimum of shock and it is beautiful on it’s own terms.