Fall lived up to its name in the Twin Cities on Monday.

Golden leaves coaxed by strong northwest winds were parted from their summer moorings and showered down on streets and sidewalks, giving metro residents a sudden heads-up on the autumn chores that await.

"This morning my wife said, 'Listen to the leaves on the rooftop. It's like it's raining,'" said naturalist and Waconia resident Jim Gilbert. "Every place I went, there was striking fall color and leaves falling."

Gilbert declared that Monday in fact was the Twin Cities' fall color peak, as the yellowed ash leaves -- always the first to drop -- fluttered down against a backdrop of red and orange sugar maples, golden cottonwoods and silver maples, oaks just beginning to change, and a wealth of green.

That peak, by his estimation, came two days earlier than last year's, which followed another late summer drought. And, as happened last year, the spectacle belied expectations that fall would be early and drab because of the early spring and late summer dryness.

"I was proven wrong," Gilbert said. "I was just mesmerized this morning. It was not what I was expecting. I was expecting a lot of duller tones -- a lot of brown. I was expecting leaves to curl up and fall off. This has way exceeded my expectations for beauty."

And there's plenty more to come, of course.

"Looking out my window, there's still plenty of green," said assistant state climatologist Pete Boulay. "I can't see through the woods ... yet."

Ready for action?

Some may have been lulled by recent summery weather into thinking fall was further off than it turned out to be.

"We haven't sold any rakes or a lot of leaf bags," said Nancy Werner, longtime all-purpose employee at John Bartl Hardware in Newport. "I don't think [people] are ready yet. When it happens, it's going to happen fast."

Kirk Mona, naturalist at Warner Nature Center near Marine on St. Croix, also found Monday's leaf-fall remarkable. But he's hoping not too many leaves drop, because the center's annual Fall Color Blast is scheduled for Sunday.

"I get nervous every year, but it seems like that first weekend in October is pretty much our fall color peak," he said.

Outside the metro, Minnesotans are getting some different tastes from autumn. The western half of Minnesota is facing an extreme fire danger because of dry conditions, wind and now leaf fall.

Also, most of the state, including areas south of the metro, has already experienced frost; officially, the Twin Cities has not. The National Weather Service has declared an end to the growing season and won't issue any more frost or freeze warnings this season. Northern Minnesota could even see snow late this week.

The lowest temperature so far this season in the Twin Cities was 36 degrees on Sept. 23, but Forest Lake dropped to 31 that night. Some northern locations have already dipped into the teens. Minnesota had the coldest spot in the nation six times in September, Minnesota Extension climatologist Mark Seeley noted.

The median date of the first frost in the Twin Cities is Oct. 7, and it could be close this year. The predicted low for Oct. 6, Saturday, is 32.

Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646