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Leaf colors fall flat

Wet conditions lead to dull foliage

At the Bedford Fall Foliage Festival this year, festival committee President Ron Ebert heard the jokes — and made some himself:

“Didn’t you paint the leaves?” people asked.

“Ran out of paint. We’ll try to do better next year,” he’d reply.

The festival took place on the first two weekends of October.

We’re well past midway in the month, approaching Halloween, and it still looks like summer in most places.

The warm, wet weather that has prevailed in recent times is responsible, according to Marc Abrams, professor of forest ecology and physiology at Penn State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences, as cited in a Penn State news release.

“(S)oggy conditions likely will result in a subdued foliage display,” the news release states.

“I predict that there will be a late — and muted — leaf coloration this October,” Abrams stated.

That will doubtless mute the braggadocio of tourist agency types hoping to attract folks who travel in the fall to see the colors.

“(C)lear, bright days, low, but not freezing temperatures and dry, but not drought conditions” generate the best fall colors, Abrams said.

Cool temperatures signal deciduous trees to stop producing chlorophyll, a green pigment responsible for photosynthesis.

When temperatures cool, the chlorophyll present already breaks down and disappears, exposing other pigments — creating yellows and oranges seen in some species, according to the news release.

When chlorophyll production ceases, trees produce another pigment, anthocyanin, which causes the reds and purples seen in some species, according to the news release.

The best chance for a decent display at this point is “cool to cold temperatures to arrive by early to mid-October,” according to Abrams, speaking now of a chance that might have already passed — given that we’re past the mid-point of the month.

The next couple weeks are likely to see alternating periods of colder and warmer weather, each lasting a couple days, according to meteorologist David Martin of the National Weather Service office in State College.

“We’ll see what happens,” Martin said of the effect of this pattern on the leaves. “Could turn out OK — just late.”

Ebert, whose festival occurred far too early to benefit from any late natural color collage, spoke from his home near Allentown last week.

Parked in front of a bank, he looked at a nearby tree marveling:

“Not one leaf colored,” he said. “Is God trying to tell us something?”

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