Phenology Daybook: October 1, 2020

October 1st

The 274th Day of the Year


Hail, old October, bright and chill,

First freedman from the summer sun!


Thomas Constable


Sunrise/set: 6:31/6:18

Day’s Length: 11 hours 45 minutes

Average High/Low: 72/50

Average Temperature: 61

Record High: 93 – 1897, 94 – 2019

Record Low: 31 – 1895


The Daily Weather

The first day of October brings highs above 80 on 25 percent of the years, brings 70s on 40 percent of the years (it is the last time this season that the combined possibility for 70s, 80s and 90s reaches so high), 60s on 25 percent, 50s on 10 percent. Skies are completely overcast and rain occurs 40 percent of the days. Lows are in the mild 50s or 60s more than half the time, and frost comes only once in a decade.


The Weather in the Week Ahead

Light frost strikes ten to 20 percent of all the nights this week, with October 3rd most likely to bring a damaging freeze in the 20s (a five percent chance of that). Highs in the 80s occur on approximately ten percent of the days, and 70s can be expected 30 percent of the time. Moderate 60s dominate 50 percent of the afternoons, while colder 40s and 50s come 15 to 20 percent of the time.

The likelihood for colder weather almost always increases after the 4th – after which day the chances of highs only in the 50s swells from an average of 15 percent to 30 percent. Rain falls about one day in three. The driest days are the 3rd, the 6th and the 7th, and the wettest days are October 1st and the 4th. Skies are clear to partly cloudy 70 percent of the time. The sunniest days are typically the 3rd, and the 6th, when clouds are almost completely absent.


The October Outlook

The average number of major cold waves increases to seven this month in the Lower Midwest. There are typically only four to five in September, just three or four in August. These fronts bring an occasional day when the thermometer reads only in the 30s; three or four days stay in the 40s; at least a week of afternoons are in the 50s, another seven in the 60s, another seven in the 70s, and two to four in the 80s. Normal highs drop fourteen to fifteen degrees, slipping from the lower 70s into the upper 50s. Average lows move from about 50 all the way down to the upper 30s.

The warmest October days, those with at least a 30 percent chance of highs above 70 degrees, are the 1st (typically the warmest day in October), 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 15th, 16th, and 31st.

The coldest days, those with at least a 50 percent chance of highs below 60 degrees, are the 20th, 22nd, 25th, 27th, 28th, and 29th.

Frost occurs at least twice in a southern Ohio October; and it usually strikes six nights in the next 30 (and it occurs one night out of every two in the coldest years). The early mornings on which frost is most likely to occur are those of the 13th, 16th, 19th, 20th, 25th, 26th, 27th, and 29th.

October is the peak of the dry season in the Lower Midwest. Less precipitation falls at this time of year than at any other, and the skies offer more sun than clouds. There are typically 11 completely clear days in October, eight partly cloudy, and 12 mostly cloudy or fully overcast.

The driest October days, those with only a 15 percent chance of rain, are the 26th, 28th, and 29th. The sunniest October days, those with at least a 75 percent chance of sun are the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 10th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 28th and 29th. October’s sunniest day of all is the 15th.

The rainiest October days, those with at least a 35 percent chance of precipitation, are the 1st, 4th, 10th, 12th (the wettest day of the month), 13th, 16th, 17th, 22nd, and 23rd. Light snow falls between the 12th and the 31st two years in ten.



               Key to the Nation’s Weather

The normal October temperature at average elevations along the 40th Parallel, the average of the high of 65 and the low of 46, is 55 degrees. Using the following chart based on weather statistics from around the country, you can calculate the approximate temperatures in other locations.

For example, with the base of 55 you can estimate normal temperatures in Minneapolis by subtracting 5 degrees from the base average. Or add 8 degrees to find out the likely conditions in Atlanta during the month.


Fairbanks AK                                   -28

Cheyenne WY                                    -10

Portland, ME                                        -5

Minneapolis MN                                 -5

Des Moines IA                                    -2

Seattle, WA                                          -2


St. Louis           MO                          +4

Washington DC                                    +4

Atlanta GA                                           +8

New Orleans LA                               +16

Miami FL                                          +22



Between the first threat of frost and the first breath of winter, approximately 18 major weather systems cross the United States. Four of those systems arrived in September; October brings at least seven more:


October 2: This front is typically a strong and consistent one, and it usually brings freezing nights to the North. The two mornings following this front often bring a damaging freeze along the Canadian border.


October 4: A secondary front often comes through around the 4th of October, signaling further progress in the advent of autumn. Planting, harvest and hiking are favored for a day or two after the passage of this system.


October 7: This front, the final one of the subseason of “Early Fall,” is often weaker than the weather systems of October 2nd and 4th, but frost is still to be expected in the Northeast, upper Midwest, the Plains and the Rockies. The weather following this front is typically dry and stable, but the advance of the October 13th high increases the chances of precipitation on the 10th through the 12th. Snow is not uncommon at higher elevations on those dates, and the 12th brings the first chance of flurries to the Ohio Valley. In 2015, this front pushed Hurricane Joaquin to the northeast, sparing the northern coast from wind, but drenching South Carolina with once-in-a-millennium rainfall.


October 13: This cold front almost always accompanies a chillier and more dramatic subseason of autumn known as “Middle Fall.” This high-pressure system can be expected to bring rain or snow and nights in the upper 20s in the North, upper 30s in the South.


October 17: Chances of freezing temperatures continue to grow as the October fronts advance. Lows in the 20s or 30s are most likely


to occur on the mornings of the 19th and 20th, with the latter date carrying the highest chances of a freeze so far this season.


October 23: This system almost always produces rain or snow. After it passes through, however, the 26th, the 28th, and the 29th are often some of the best days of the month for harvest. But the mornings most likely to bring a killing frost during the month’s final week are the 25th and the 26th. Both have a 35 percent chance of a low only in the 20s along the 40th Parallel, the first time this season the odds have risen so high.


October 27: The high-pressure system that arrives near this date often preempts the October 30 front, chills Halloween and brings down the foliage of the most brittle maples.


October 30: When this cold front moves is late, it brings mild south winds under which to finish harvest. Between today and the arrival of early winter, there should be up to 20 days of relatively benign, dry days for fertilizing, harvesting, wood cutting, planting spring crops, raking leaves, transplanting, and digging in spring bulbs.


October Phenology

When Halloween crops have come to town, then the dark-eyed juncos return to bird feeders.

When streaks of scarlet appear in the oaks and shades of pink in the dogwood trees, then cut gourds, winter squash and pumpkins for winter storage. Harvest grapes, too.

When the fruits of the ginkgo tree turn pink, then next year’s skunk cabbage protrudes in the swamp and the knuckles of next year’s rhubarb show in the garden.

When the burning bush is completely red, then snow becomes a possibility.

When beggartick seeds stick to your pants legs, then check horses for horse-bot eggs.

When the winged seeds of Japanese knotweed fall, then great flocks of blackbirds move across the land.

When leaves reach peak color, then farmers plant winter wheat, and mating season begins for the white-tailed deer.

When ash leaves fall, then divide peonies, lilies, and iris.                               When red maple leaves are down, then plant crocus, daffodils, tulips, snowdrops, and aconites before November turns the weather much chillier.

When the pointers of the Big Dipper are aligned north and south at 10:00 p.m., then hosta seedpods split open in rainy weather, revealing their black contents. That is the time to dig dahlias and gladioli for winter.

When the barn swallows leave the barn for the South, begin the sugar beet harvest and look for frost within two weeks.

When the soft heads of cattails start to break apart, then complete autumn pruning of trees and shrubs.

When the first killing frost takes the peppers and tomatoes, then dig up the onions, remove the mum tops, cut flowers and herbs for drying.

When the second bloom of forsythia bushes occurs, then about 14 mild, dry days for outdoor work remain before winter.


The Natural Calendar

Deep in Early Fall the first slate-gray junco arrives in the Lower Midwest for winter. Goldenrod is seeding now, pods of the eastern burning bush are open, hawthorn berries redden, wild grapes are purple, and the tree line that seemed so deep in summer just days ago is suddenly poised to break into its final color of the year.

When juncos arrive, streaks of scarlet appear on the oaks, shades of pink on the dogwoods. The ashes all show red or gold; the catalpas and the cottonwoods blanch. Shagbark hickories, tulip trees, sassafras, elms, locusts and sweet gums change to full yellow, merge with the swelling orange of the maples to create a variegated archway into Middle Fall.

When the first junco appears, the terns and meadowlarks, yellow-rumped warblers and purple martins migrate. Hawks wait on fences and high wires, looking for prey. Titmice chirp, and sometimes cardinals sing. Robins give their short migration clucks.

Cabbage butterflies become more reckless in their search for nectar. Aphids disappear in the chilly nights. daddy longlegs disappear from the undergrowth, and spiders of all kinds move indoors. Damselflies are rare along the rivers now, and darners have left their suburban ponds.



1982: End of the raspberry season this year, only a few berries left for nibbling.


1983: Raspberries still coming in strong. Some tomatoes still ripening, should last at least through the middle of the month, and well into November indoors on the kitchen sill. Crickets still sing. Some Japanese honeysuckle still blooming.


1986: Cardinal sings at 6:19 a.m.


1987: First light frost of the year.


1989: I work outside, surrounded by sparrow and cardinal song, crickets, robin migration messages, crows. The blue dayflowers have now faded from time and disease. Peony stalks half decayed.


1990: The ash tree outside my window has lost almost all of its leaves. Grackles in the ginkgo, the sky bright, air crisp.


1991: Aster novii belgii completely gone now. And sudden advent of early color in the tree line. Some maples already turned, brilliant patches of orange here and there. Violet, red, deep purple poison ivy and Virginia creeper outline the changes. My ginkgo is full of acorn size fruit. Locusts and ash are well along in their transformation. More and more box elder, cherry, apple, and mulberry weathering.


1992: Starlings in the trees every afternoon. I watch the drying of goldenrod until it blends with the dead Bermuda grass, foxtail, smooth brome, orchard grass. The black walnut trees are bare. One blue lobelia, one tall bellflower, some red clover, scattered white snakeroot along Jacoby Branch. Yellowing of the wild grape leaves, yellow milkweed, yellow elms, yellow shagbark hickory, yellow spicebush, a locust yellow around its red thorns, nettles bleached with age, the last huge silver spider webs hanging in the black wingstem shining in the early morning sun, timothy all fallen from its stalk, the sound of October crows.

Crickets jumping in the warm grass; no daddy longlegs hunting, but red and blue dragonflies are still out by the swamp. Leaves on the path, sycamore, sassafras, dogwood, ash. More woolly bears every day. Small flocks of robins migrating.

From one woods to the next, summer to fall. One patch fully green, no signs of change. Down river a mile, another season, dark, thinning. First gold mulberry leaf. Cottonwood almost gone, staghorn sumac, too. First junco seen today. High rivers early this year, and pussy willows sprouting new leaves in the heat. Fresh mint replaces cress and forget-me-nots in the marsh streams. Asters die back. Thyme-leaved speedwell goes to seed. Buzzards are in their roost by the bend of the river. Hundreds of blackbirds upstream feeding in the fallen leaves, bathing in the pebbles and sand uncovered by last month’s drought.


1995: Leafturn has been late this year, just like it was in 1988, the year of our most recent drought. Even the earliest trees, the buckeyes, box elders, locusts and ashes, stayed green until the end of September. Then this weekend those early varieties began to change, and a few of the maples started in, too. Along the roadsides, purple New England asters and the tall goldenrod are still in full bloom, adding to the new autumn landscape.


1996: The Japanese beetles seem to be completing their departure this week. Taking their place, cucumber beetles hide in the roses. The mornings bring occasional robins passing through, and once in a while a cardinal will call. Cricket song has replaced cicada song. Yellow jackets becoming more numerous, cabbage butterflies tamer or more reckless in the search for nectar and favorable sites to lay their eggs. Aphids are disappearing in the colder nights. The autumn crocus has completed its season. Most of the domestic asters started from seed in March and blooming late into September have died back. The first goldenrod has just started to rust. Soybean leaves are finally yellowing, and a few cornfields are turning brown.


1999: Cardinals sing on and off all morning.


2001: First milkweed pods seen open today as I was driving south to Washington Court House.


2003: Light frost on the roof and on the car windshields this morning. My ash tree at school is about two-thirds down, and leaf-turn on the ashes in the parking lot is well underway. One full-color maple in Wilmington. At home, pussy willow and red quince leaves have been gone for a week or so, fell with the black walnut foliage.


2004: At South Glen, the river is low after the dry September, and the undergrowth is tattered. Some of the wingstem seeds have turned brown, and the wood nettle foliage is blanching from age. One lobelia and one black-eyed Susan have decaying blossoms. All the goldenrod is rusting. Only the small heart-leafed asters, Short’s asters, and small white asters are still strong. Geese flew over about 10:15; kingfishers were chattering up and down the river throughout my walk. Mike said they might be migrating. At home in the north garden, the New England asters are almost completely done blooming for the year. My depression strong today as the moon wanes.


2005: A vole caught under the sink last night; the invasion continues (two mice in the last two weeks of September). A very small camel cricket jumped into the toilet this morning!


2008: One monarch surprised in the New England asters late this afternoon, the only one I’ve seen in weeks. Jeanie told me that the cats killed a giant vole in the greenhouse while I was gone on the 27th.


2009: A definite freeze reported by Jerry Rohrs in Archbold this morning. Here at home, there is an increase in black walnuts accumulating on the sidewalk and in the alley. More than half of Mateo’s black walnuts have come down in just a few days. Serviceberry trees are shedding. Hops flowers are brown, some knotweed still full, and a small praying mantis, maybe an inch and a half long, in the stonecrop. Crows and cardinals at 6:13 a.m.


2010: No monarchs or swallowtails, only a couple of skippers, in spite of mild and sunny weather. The pussy willow catkins in the bush along the front sidewalk are pushing out as though it were early March.


2011: Cold settling in across the Miami Valley, clouds, wind. When I walked Bella this morning, I thought I heard a faint buzzing of tree or ground crickets, but the rustling of leaves was the dominant sound. Along Xenia Avenue, the ash trees a full yellow gold. On the sidewalk near the corner of Limestone Street, thousands of maple seeds have joined the black walnuts. Only a couple of mournful field cricket chirps when I walked Bella tonight, temperature in the upper 40s.


2012: Full ash color now building suddenly. Dawn Shovar sent the following: “Just wanted to let you know that a sampling of persimmon seeds in the Montezuma, Mitchell, and Turkey Run State Park areas of Indiana all show spoons this year. Guess we all will be shoveling snow! Last year, I could not find any knives, forks or spoons in any of them. In talking about that, my husband said, ‘Well, we didn’t have a winter last year.’ Guess those old trees knew ahead of time!”


2013: Crows late again this morning: 6:39. The way to Wilmington is gradually turning toward early full color – could be there in a week. The ashes, walnuts and locusts are leading, and many maples have joined in. Tonight: katydids, field crickets, melodious tree frogs, and the high static of thrips.


2014: Moya’s maple (so much taller than last year) has a deep red-orange patch of color on its top east side, and the Danielsons’ maple is suddenly outstripping Mrs. Timberlake’s, which was the first to start. Peggy’s burning bush and Lil’s are half red. Two forsythia flowers noticed next to the sidewalk on High Street. Ashes at the college and in the neighborhood, full rich brown, not shedding yet. All the Mills Lawn black walnuts are bare. At the Mill Dam, distant robin peeping, all the wingstem of September gone, all the snakeroot and wood nettle gone to seed, only Short’s asters and the small white asters (Aster vimineus/ Symphyotrichum lateriflorum) in bloom. I took a few water willow plants from the large clump growing in the shallows below the dam. Annie called tonight: She said the foliage throughout her drive to from the ocean at Newburyport to Vermont was the most brilliant and dramatic she had ever seen.


2015: Drew Monkman notes that ospreys have begun migration south from east-central Ontario. The first major hurricane of the season, Joaquin, approaches the southeastern United States – as a storm cell causes severe storms over Sardinia.


2016: Light wind, bright sun, mild: The New England asters, late goldenrod, the rose bush, the sedums, the zinnias and many tithonias hold on, attracting bees, one monarch, about half a dozen cabbage whites, one silver-spotted skipper. At the northwest corner of the porch, the white autumn crocus is still blooming, some stalks toppling over. As I walked down High Street at sunrise, a long flock of blackbirds clucked above me heading northeast, stretching from one end of town to the other.


2017: An identical day to last year, but with a breeze and without the blackbirds (but robins peeping in the honeysuckles). I see the painted ladies and cabbage whites. I wait for a monarch and a skipper. Instead, more painted ladies arrive, four or five at one time in the afternoon, maybe a new hatch. From Spoleto, Italy, Neysa sends a photo of hillside of golden autumn croci in full bloom.


2018: No painted ladies this year, but at least two monarchs playing in the tithonias, one Eastern black swallowtail (the first in a very long time) in the zinnias, one small checkerspot, one silver-spotted skipper and a few cabbage whites exploring. Two canna lilies brought in from the garden for the fall. The dahlias, New England asters, zinnias and tithonias keep the garden bright even as the viburnum blushes more, the Japanese knotweed goes to seed and the whole feel of the yard becomes rustier, more tinted with ocher.


2019: Record heat of 94 degrees. Cabbage whites, several silver-spotted skippers and one small checkerspot in the garden today, but no hummingbird or monarch or painted lady seen when I walked about. Male goldfinches have lost their summer color. At Ellis Pond, I found fallen pecans, the first I have seen on the ground since we lived in North Carolina.


2020: Chilly in the 50s today, and breezy with light showers. No butterflies. Jill and I walked into the Glass Farm wetland, past the great fields solid with small white asters (Aster pilosus or Aster dumosus) intruded occasionally by tall goldenrod.


 Now, too, the first of October, or later, the elms are at the height of their autumnal beauty, great brownish-yellow masses, warm from their September oven, hanging over the highway. Their leaves are perfectly ripe. I wonder if there is any answering ripeness in the lives of the men who live beneath them.


Henry David Thoreau






  1. Barbara A Valdez

    You’ve pulled out all the stops!

    1. Bill Felker (Post author)

      Thanks, Barbara!


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