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September 23. 2012 10:31PM

Weather cooperates, creates conditions for an ideal foliage season


A foliage season view off the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire. (Courtesy)


Tree experts say conditions are good for a colorful fall foliage season in 2012. (Courtesy)


Foliage season at the Chocorua Village Dam offers a palette of fall color. COURTESY (Courtesy)


A sugar maple is close to peak color at Derryfield Park in Manchester Thursday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

All signs point to a fabulous foliage season.

Warm, dry days and cool, longer nights create conditions to promote the brightest of colors, according to Kevin Smith, Ph.D., project leader and plant physiologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service office in Durham.

“The color changes are part of an active, living process,” Smith said.

As days grow shorter and nights grow longer and cooler, biochemical processes in the leaf begin to color the landscape with nature's autumn palette. Smith said that when a tree reaches the end of the growing season, it stops making chlorophyll, which creates its green pigment. Other pigments, such as the carotenoids, which produce yellow, orange and brown, and anthocyanins, which produce red, blue and purple, emerge.

Overall, the weather has been good this year, with no devastating storms or severe drought conditions. Smith said another positive sign is that trees are healthier this year.

“We did not have any bad outbreaks of foliage disease,” he said. “Trees need to be healthy to produce that color.”

Last year, some maples, birches and beeches across the state experienced a foliage disease that left leaves brown and crinkly, and unable to change color, he said. Another factor in last year's disappointing fall color scheme — aside from a tropical storm that blew off many leaves — was the warm weather.

“Last year the foliage didn't seem as bright in some places. We were in a 'la Nina' ... a three- to seven-year cycle. What that does in New England is keep things warm, both at night and during the day,” said Smith, who also noted that the Halloween snowstorm of 2011 put an end to the foliage season.

“Trees have to deal with all sorts of conditions,” he said. “Trees have developed ways to do what they need to do; they weather the changes pretty well.”

University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Forester and Educator Wendy Scribner said while the weather has been a bit on the dry side in the southern parts of the state, overall it should be a healthy foliage season. If it stays too dry, however, trees can suffer stress, show color earlier, then shed their leaves, she said.

“We've had enough periodic episodes of rain, though. I think we'll see a normal progression (of color),” she said.

Key for tourism

Marti Mayne, manager of public relations for the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce, said foliage season is one of the busiest times of the year.

“It's the most concentrated period for visitors. It is critical. It is key,” she said of the season. Mayne said in 2011, tropical storm Irene not only destroyed foliage, it devastated and washed out roads.

“There were lots of reports that New Hampshire was closed to visitors. That was horrible, catastrophic,” she said. However, chamber members reported a stupendous summer season.

“We had a great summer season weather-wise. We expect the colors to be beautiful this year — plus all the roads are fixed and open. The sentiment among members is the economy is on the upswing and consumer confidence is stronger,” she said. “We're very excited.”

Scenic vistas

New Hampshire's vistas and mountain ranges provide for great viewing and a multitude of colors, Mayne said. Even in Connecticut and Maine, she said, the colors are different.

“You don't find the spectacular colors. It's because of the vistas. This is an exceptional place for leaf peeping,” Mayne said.

Hotel and travel coach bookings are up this year, she added. A contributing factor is the boost in Canadian tourism. Mayne said the law has changed so that Canadian tourists can bring $800 in duty-free goods across the U.S. border.

“That has made a huge difference in Canadian tourists,” she said. “There is a huge ripple effect in terms of what it does for tourism here.”

An app for that

Visitors can even track the colors from their mobile devices.

Lori Harnois, director of the New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism Development, said: “You get access to our foliage reports, interactive map, pictures and what percentage peak each region in the state is at right from your mobile phone. Visitors can search lodging, dining and attractions within the app.”

Updated reports on the state of foliage in the seven tourism regions of New Hampshire are pushed to the app each week.

In addition, weekly foliage reports are also posted on Wednesdays at the www.visitnh.gov website, which now features fall photography, itineraries and an interactive foliage tracker map.

The app can be downloaded by searching for “New Hampshire Foliage Tracker” in either the Apple App Store or Google Play for Android.

lmulkern@newstote.com


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