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Hot, dry summer may mean earlier, dimmer fall foliage

Friday, August 31, 2012
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Warm days and cool nights are attributed to maple trees  starting to change color as seen here along Route 5s in Pattersonville on Thursday afternoon.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
Warm days and cool nights are attributed to maple trees starting to change color as seen here along Route 5s in Pattersonville on Thursday afternoon.

— The dark reds, oranges and glowing yellows of fall foliage may emerge earlier this year than in previous years, some leaf experts say.

Others say the hot, dry summer may result in less color in some parts of upstate New York.

Eric Scheffel, coordinator of Empire State Development’s I Love New York weekly fall foliage report, said it’s a little too early to say what the foliage season will be like.

“My sense is that there will be more color at the outset of the season,” Scheffel said Thursday.

He said he gets that “sense” from talking to some of I Love New York’s 65 volunteer leaf-spotters across the state, including one in Schenectady County and in other counties in the Capital Region.

“You can’t make any predictions until after the first couple of reports. Then, you start to see a pattern,” Scheffel said.

He said he has seen some trees, including one in his own backyard in Cohoes, that have been stressed during a long dry spell earlier this summer.

“The leaves didn’t change color, they just dried up and fell to the ground,” he said.

Karl Niklas, a plant science professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, said this summer’s dry conditions are likely to result in a less-colorful autumn for parts of upstate New York, where leaves already have begun turning in some areas.

The early transition comes with the official start of fall still more than three weeks away. Niklas said the ongoing dry conditions will dim fall foliage, according to an Associated Press report.

The state has been experiencing one of the warmest and driest summers on record in some regions, conditions that can cause trees to drop their leaves earlier than normal, experts say.

Scheffel said the leaves start turning first in the Adirondacks and Catskills.

“The change in color from the bright greens of summer to the brilliant hues of fall follows a predictable pattern,” said a statement from Empire State Development. “The pattern begins high in the Adirondack and Catskill mountains in late August and early September and spreads out and down across the hills and valleys of the state, ending on Long Island and in New York City in early November.”

Scheffel, who has coordinated the foliage report for 18 years, says peak foliage time in the Capital Region is traditionally mid-October. He said color change in the Adirondacks and Catskills will dominate the first two weeks of state foliage reports.

Peak foliage in New England also works its way down from the north, according to travel bureaus in those states. The farther north you go, the earlier the peak.

“For Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, your best bet is anywhere from the last week of September through the first week or two of October,” according to New England Travel.

The three-day weekend around the Columbus Day holiday is often associated with peak foliage in Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, but there are no guarantees. A violent storm can rip the leaves from the trees before they ever truly reach their peak.

Last year, fall foliage in the Capital Region was affected by Tropical Storm Irene and an unusually wet summer, which pushed back the peak leaf colors in the region by at least two weeks.

 
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