This summer was notable because of drought conditions in June and July, and searing heat in July, but that won't limit the beauty of Pennsylvania's fall foliage. Instead, it's the next few weeks' weather that will be determinant, according to a forest expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. And long-term weather forecasts point to mild weather -- 60- to 70-degree days and nights in the mid-40s -- through the end of October, with no frosts. For fall foliage lovers, that's not good.
The extreme climatic conditions Pennsylvania experienced in 2011 may not cause less brilliant foliage this autumn, according to a forest expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. Ironically, the display may be limited by tamer weather that is occurring right now. "It's true 2011 has been an extraordinary year for climate -- going from one extreme to another," said Marc Abrams, professor of forest ecology and physiology. "Some counties in the eastern part of the state are now 1 to 2 feet above their average precipitation. And eastern Pennsylvania also suffered the impacts of strong winds from Hurricane Irene. But despite all these extremes, I am still somewhat optimistic about a good display of fall leaf colors this year, because most trees are in good physiological condition going into October, due to late-summer rains."
If it seems to you, as you drive around Pennsylvania, that the leaves on many trees began turning colors early this year, it's because they have, according to a forest expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. On the heels of one of the hottest, driest summers on record for Pennsylvania, hardwoods across the state began going from green to gold, orange, red and purple -- and to dull brown -- in mid-September. "It has been so dry, and trees in some areas are so challenged by drought conditions, that their leaves just went straight to brown and are falling off the branches already," said Marc Abrams, professor of forest ecology and physiology.
For more than 20 years, Marc Abrams has studied how precipitation and temperature influence the timing and intensity of fall foliage colors in Pennsylvania. For a number of reasons, this year could be the best one he's seen.
The very dry summer in Clearfield, Cameron, Elk and Potter counties could be bad news for their fall foliage, Marc Abrams worries, but the situation could turn around with more prolonged rains -- if they come soon -- perhaps from another tropical storm.