Rainy summer and fall likely to impact leaf peeping

The leaves on this sugar maple tree in Richmond Township are normally bright red and orange. This year they turned a dull orange at best and continuous rain has knocked many of them off already.

The rainy summer and warm, wet fall will likely affect the timing and vibrancy of the color in the area’s deciduous trees this fall.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, all the rain this season will result in a more subdued display of color. This is not great news for the usually busy “leaf peeping” tourist season in Tioga County.

“Peak” coloration, or when leaf colors are most vibrant and widespread, typically occurs right around Columbus Day, which this year fell on Oct. 8, but peak season this year is anticipated to be later, around Oct. 15 according to DCNR.

All the rain is “opposite of what is needed to bring out the best and timely colors, which require cool and dry conditions with the onset of fall,” Marc Abrams, professor of forest ecology and physiology in the College of Agricultural Sciences, said in a press release. “I predict that there will be a late — and muted — leaf coloration this October.”

Each year, more than 200 million travelers visit Pennsylvania and inject an estimated $40.8 billion into the state’s economy, with many coming during the fall to view the autumn colors.

According to Wellsboro Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Julie VanNess, tourists typically start arriving the week prior to Columbus Day, and motels are booked months in advance for the annual display.

“Most places are fairly full,” she said.

She has not heard of any cancellations because of the wet weather.

“I think it will be just fine this year. The foliage will be very pretty and bright and people will come to see the canyon,” she said. “People who love fall still love fall. I am looking forward to the color. I think it will be as beautiful as always.”

According to the DCNR and the Pennsylvania Tourism Office, northern tree species in the state include gray and paper (white) birches, mountain maple, American mountain ash, quaking aspen and pin (fire) cherry.

Southern tree species include the black gum, black walnut, pignut hickory, flowering dogwood, southern red and scarlet oaks, sweetbay and umbrella magnolias, persimmon and pawpaw.

Three major pigment types are involved in the production of autumn color: chlorophyll reflects green, carotenoids reflect orange, yellow and brown, and anthocyanins contribute red, blue and purple colors.

During the growing season, chlorophyll is continually used, broken down and replaced as leaves appear green. The chlorophyll production slows and eventually stops.

Carotenoids and anthocyanins present in the leaves are then unmasked and show their colors. Other factors including leaf pigments, length of night and weather — also influence autumn color.

However, experts say the timing of color change and leaf fall are regulated by the increasing length of night hours. None of the other environmental influences are as “unvarying” as the increasing length of darkness during autumn, according to the DCNR website.

Weekly fall foliage reports can be found online at the DCNR website and are updated every Thursday through the end of autumn.

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