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Warm September Delaying New England's Fall Foliage Colors

September 21, 2015

fall foliage

The Associated Press, September 21, 2015

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — One of the hottest early Septembers on record is slowing the seasonal cycle when leaves turn from green to breathtaking reds, oranges and yellows, and draw visitors in droves to northern New England.

Foliage reports for Vermont and Maine were mostly green this week, while New Hampshire reported some color in the north and anticipated peak color at the end of October.

This time last year, northern Maine was approaching its peak.

"Sheesh, it's 82 degrees right now. It's been in the 80s for the last two days. Fall hasn't even come close to starting yet," said Jason Chamberlain of St. Francis, Maine, near the Canadian border.

In Vermont, where an estimated 3.5 million people visit each fall, Burlington temperatures have soared into the 80s and 90s — the city's second-warmest early September on record.

Tim Fleury, forester for the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension in Merrimack County, isn't worried about all the green he's still seeing. He said the weather leading up to foliage season is less important than the conditions once the leaves begin to change. That's when he wants to see clear, sunny days in the 70s and nights in the 40s to really juice up the reds and oranges.

Fleury also noted that the relatively dry conditions mean he's seeing less fungal problems that can put a damper on the colors.

"The trees seem healthy for the most part," Fleury said. "I think it's on track."

He expects the colors will start to pick up steam — from north to south — in the last part of September and the viewing season will last about three weeks.

The foliage season varies in color and length from year to year based on a various conditions. Last year was a particularly long colorful season in Vermont from mid-September to late October. In other years, wind has blown the leaves off the trees early.

This year, the leaves are gradually starting to change as they lose their green chlorophyll pigments with the shortened days. A dip in temperatures could quickly bring on the spectacular outdoor show. Some tree species generate a new red pigment, triggered by stress, whether it be low temperatures, drought, or disease.

"Other than that localized stress, most trees are going through that gradual process of the green gradually fading away and so in a time period like this, where we have a pretty mild early fall or late summer, you're not going to see a broad scale change in color just yet," said Paul Schaberg, a plant physiologist with the U.S. Forest Service in Burlington.

In some isolated places with shallow soils, a dry spell is causing leaves to dry out and fall off on some understory trees, he said.

Burr Morse, proprietor of the Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks in East Montpelier, Vermont, said Friday that the trees are just starting to show their color.

"The word is blush, like an embarrassed school boy," Morse said of the faint red that's beginning to appear in some trees. "It's a sudden thing. It goes from green to blush and then the next thing you know we're deep into buses and it's brilliant."

Morse's Sugarworks gets about 300 tour buses a year, most of them during foliage season.


AP writers Rik Stevens in Concord, N.H.; David Sharp in Portland, Maine; and Wilson Ring in East Montpelier, Vt., contributed to this report.




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