Higher temps delay fall foliage

Blacksburg, Va., Nov. 7 – Hokie Colors: The trees around Terrace View Apartments took longer than usual to change color this year, but they still reached their peak levels. Photo: Matthew Atkins

by Matthew Atkins–

The New River Valley is a popular area to see fall colors on the trees, but outdoor enthusiasts didn’t get the foliage they had hoped for this season.

According to the SmokyMountains.com foliage map, the NRV didn’t see peak colors until Nov. 5 of this year, a delay caused in part by higher temperatures.

“With weather, what we saw here in Virginia is that we had one of the warmest falls and warmest summers, period,” said WDBJ meteorologist Ian Cassette. “A lot of it had to do with how mild our nights were. We were seeing some pretty warm days, but we were seeing a lot of really  warm nights as well.”

Cassette says lower temperatures are what typically leads to fall color. When temperatures drop, green chlorophyll exits the leaves, leaving orange, red and yellow behind.

That didn’t happen as much this year. Cassette says that the area set records for overnight lows, reaching up to 70 degrees when the temperatures should have been in the 50s.

This warmer season directly affected the leaves, as last year’s peak colors had already passed by early October. While the color variation can change from year to year, some trends show that higher temperatures are here to stay.

According to U.S. Climate Data, the average temperature in Roanoke for the month of October has risen three degrees over the past decade, while the average low temperature has risen nearly four degrees.

Cassette says that those numbers go back even further.

“Over the last 25 years, Roanoke, looking at the facts, has gradually seen slowly warmer overnight lows during the fall months,” Cassette said. “That may actually end up being a pretty big factor towards getting those ideal conditions to see the fall colors here.”

Although the temperatures play a big role in fall colors, other factors have a hand as well. Cassette listed the amount of rain and number of tropical systems in the area as contributors to this year’s delay in color.

Whether the foliage will get back on schedule next year is unknown, but higher temperatures are certainly having an effect.

Army ammunition plant’s sustainability efforts

Blacksburg, Va., Sept. 20 – Arsenal Clean-up: The Radford Army Ammunition Plant has taken on recent initiatives to become more eco-friendly and sustainable. Photo: Matthew Atkins

by Matthew Atkins–

The Radford Army Ammunition Plant has had its share of environmental issues and criticisms, but Lt. Col. James Scott is working to change that. Acknowledging that environmental hazards affect not only his workers but the community as well, Scott is adopting initiatives to become more sustainable.

“We just take it serious. We’ve got great Americans working out here and we want to make sure they can go home every night and they’re safe,” Scott said.

The arsenal, which was built in 1940, has been cited by multiple agencies as one of the worst polluters in the state. An article by the Roanoke Times referenced a report from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, listing the arsenal as the top polluter in Virginia. The report claimed that the plant emitted 12.1 million tons of toxic release inventory chemicals in 2016.

The area around the arsenal suffers as a result of the pollution. A 2016 report by the Sierra Club of Virginia lists the city of Radford as the locality with the seventh-highest toxic air emissions in the state. While overall air pollution is decreasing statewide, the arsenal’s emissions were listed as increasing by 90 percent from 2013-2016.

Scott has been working hard to fix the environmental issues at the plant, and he’s gotten help from some Virginia Tech students.

“We’ve got some air monitoring going on and they separately, not on the installation, but they took some soil samples looking for lead or heavy metals,” Scott said. “So we’ve partnered with them, or collaborated with them like that.”

The students collecting soil samples are part of an Appalachian Community Research class at Virginia Tech within the Appalachian Studies department. Senior Kyle Wehrenberg, an Appalachian Studies minor, has not taken the class yet but says he is more interested now that he knows they have partnered with the arsenal.

“That makes me proud of their efforts to try to partner with the arsenal to help reduce their emissions to help sustain and protect the environment.”

With the help of a local university and the community keeping them accountable, arsenal staff is working harder than ever to reduce their pollution.

“We reduced four percent of our footprint last year, and I know it doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s less power, less steam, less electricity, less water,” Scott said. “Then we turn the earth back to natural grass, so we’re happy with that.”

Recycling, water treatment and co-generating their own energy are some of the main efforts the plant has taken to reduce its footprint. Even with all of the initiatives they’ve taken, Scott says the plant works hard to go above and beyond for the environment.

“Compliance is kind of the minimum standard so you don’t legally get yourself in trouble and that’s not good enough,” Scott said. “That’s the minimum. So we do focus on beyond compliance.”

To Scott, this area is more than a workplace, it’s home, and that’s what keeps him working to protect it. ArsenalInfographic

Image linked to full version of infographic on Piktochart.com