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After Slow Start Fall Foliage Emerges

Northern NY foliage October 8th, 2017
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Northern NY foliage October 8th, 2017

The unusual warmth this fall coupled with a record heat wave in September means the natural fall foliage triggers here in the Northeast were delayed.  As fall foliage season began, muted or few colors dotted trees across the region.  But with cooler temperatures now here, more vibrant colors can be seen and some areas are now reaching peak.
Peak foliage viewing is traditionally the Columbus Day weekend in Vermont and northern New York.  This year early colors were dull and many trees remained green.  It’s only within the last week as cooler temperatures arrived that deep reds, sparkling yellows and brilliant orange leaves emerged. Vermont Department of Forest Parks and Recreation Commissioner Michael Snyder is a forester by trade.  He says the trees are simply responding to cues from their environment.  “We know that the development of color in the fall begins with the waning of day length in August. They take that as a cue from the environment.  As that process begins we start to see yellow and orange colors emerge.  Another factor though is cool weather. And that’s really what we’re seeing here is that the early part happened right on cue and the beginning, sort of first wave, of foliage developed. But this final act of the fall foliage season was somewhat slow to progress because the trees are still well above average temperatures from record heat. And the trees are showing that by delaying, if you will, the development of their color.”

Paul Smith’s College is in the center of the Adirondacks.  Professor of Natural Sciences Curt Stager calls this foliage season “confusing” because of the way the color has changed.  “The color changes started weeks ago and I thought my gosh it’s going to be an early fall.  And then it looked like the reds were coming out and I thought gosh the maples are starting ahead of everybody.  And then I thought that it was going to be dull when the other trees caught up.  But all of a sudden just the last week they all popped together and it’s pretty bright right now. But it is strange because there’s still some greenery out there too as well."

The Lake Placid-based Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism tracks foliage in the Adirondacks.   Communications Coordinator Carrie Gentile reports that most, but not all areas are near peak.  "The percentage for the weekend right now we’ve predicted Tupper Lake to be at 100 percent, Saranac Lake at 90 percent and then the Lake Champlain region they’re anywhere between like 50 and 80 percent. So we still have plenty of foliage to come.”

Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing Commissioner Wendy Knight says later emergence of colors is extending the fall tourism season.  “People are  really having a fantastic fall not just because the colors are so vibrant but because the warmer weather actually is conducive for a lot of the fall activities: the apple picking and going to pumpkin patches, mountain biking, hiking. And so the warmer weather has made it kind of special to do some of those activities too.  You know fall is much more than just leaf peeping.”

Snyder doesn’t call the colors late, but rather sees it as a gradual emergence.  “I stay away from the late word because that suggest the trees are making a mistake.  They’re not late. They’re doing what they do and they know how to do it.  What I’ve found most striking this year is how varied it is."

There’s  more information below and there's a photo album of the early foliage in New York and Vermont on WAMC’s Facebook page.






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