Despite a relatively dry summer, the reds, yellows and oranges of autumn will adorn the mountains of Blair County with their typical flamboyant splendor, area agriculture experts say.
"North central Pennsylvania is an area affected intensely, in terms of fall foliage, because it was right in the bull's eye of the late-summer drought,'' said Bryan Swistock, water resources specialist with Penn State Cooperative Exten-sion, University Park. ''But Blair County is not an area where weather conditions were unusually dry. So, the drought won't really impact us here.''
The drought led to trees in a few northcentral counties showing signs of stress, such as early leaf coloration, wilting and browning, he said, adding the the driest counties are Clinton, Clearfield, Cameron, Elk and Potter.
Mirror file photos by Patrick Waksmunski
These gold and red leaves were seen in the area in 2007.
Swistock said precipitation had been slightly below normal for the eastern, western and central part of Pennsylvania, but that was before the remnants of Hurricane Hanna pounded part of the state, bringing up the average level of precipitation for the year.
"The north central part of the state needed the rain badly but didn't get it," he said. ''From Jan. 1 to the present, Blair has been right within about a half-inch to an inch of normal in terms of precipitation, compared to 5 inches below normal for counties like Potter and McKean in northcentral Pennsylvania - those counties right along the New York border,'' he said.
For more than two decades, Mark Abrams has studied how precipitation and temperature influence the timing and intensity of fall colors.
For more information on fall foliage driving tours, visit the Allegheny Mountains Conven-tion and Visitors Bureau's Welcome Center at the Blair County Convention Center at One Convention Center Drive, Altoona, PA 16602.
Can't get out this year?
Check Pennsylvania's live fall foliage Web cams, traveler's photos and fall foliage reports at www. fallinpa.com.
Saturday: Bedford Fall Foliage Festival, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., downtown Bedford. 800-765-3331
Sunday: Apple Cider Festival at 10 a.m. at Prince Gallitzin State Park, Patton, Muskrat Beach No. 2.
Oct. 10-12: East Broad Top Fall Spectacular, Rockhill Furnace/ Orbisonia.
Oct. 11: Harvest Celeb-ration at Vintage Art Glass in Huntingdon and Woodland Gardens and Design in Mill Creek; Apple Butter Festival, Shirleysburg; 33rd Hartslog Day, 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Main Street, Alexandria
Oct. 12: Fall Foliage Walk with S'mores, 1 to 3 p.m., Shaver's Creek Environmental Center.
Oct. 18: Healthy Harvest Festival, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Washington Street, downtown Huntingdon.
Oct. 31: Pumpkin Festival, 10 a.m. Allegheny Street, Hollidaysburg
He's found that the critical period for coloration in the Keystone State runs from the middle of September to the second week of October.
''At that point we need nice, cool nights in the middle to high 30s - but not a hard frost - and bright, sunny days," said Abrams, professor of forest ecology and physiology at Penn State, University Park. "Trees respond to the amount of daylight in late summer. As the days get shorter, the decrease in daylight reduces the energy needed for photosynthesis to occur.
"As chlorophyll (the pigment found in green plants) content in the leaves diminishes, other pigments become more dominant - hence the spectacular color displays of fall."
Abrams said he wasn't sure what to expect in terms of how the drought would affect areas in the eastern central part of the state.
"It's hard to tell," he said. "All we know is that the leaves that are changing now won't be available two weeks from now, when we normally expect them to be at their peak color."
Pennsylvania's state parks are famously aglow this time of year with the colors of autumn, Abrams said. Along with aesthetic stalwarts such as Canoe Creek State Park, Blue Knob State Park and Black Moshannon State Park, Prince Gallitzin State Park has become a sight-seeing mecca for fall foliage buffs around the country and abroad.
And in Prince Gallitzin, it's just beginning.
"The leaves are just starting to change," said park manager Dan Bickel. "It looks like it's going to be a good year for color. We had a warm, dry summer, but if we keep getting early fall rains like we're getting now, that will allow the leaves to stay on the trees, which in turn produces more brilliant colors."
The park's drawing card is its wide variety of trees, Bickel said.
"We have a lot of sugar maples and red maples that are showing a lot of red color right now," he said.
"But the oaks and hickories haven't really started yet."
The park's Apple Cider Festival, which takes place Sunday from 5 to 10 p.m. at Muskrat Beach No. 2, includes a variety of fall-oriented celebrations including apple butter and apple cider demonstrations, 120 craft vendors, 20 food vendors, chainsaw carvings and hayrides.
"You really can experience the fall colors on these hayrides," Bickel said. "Along with the wide variety of tree species at our park, you get that reflection off the lake which really sets up a beautiful backdrop."
And with a bevy of places to enjoy fall's colors in the area, self-guided tours are big business, said Cheryl Ebersole, executive director of the Allegheny Mountains Convention and Visitors Bureau in Altoona.
"The fall is our busiest time of the year for self-guided tours," she said. "We have 100s of people pick these tours up and take them at their own pace. We just keep making more and more copies of the directions and information packages as needed."
For the tours, Ebersole said the the bureau chooses back country roads with the most foliage.
"The tours also include a lot of history and facts about the places you're visiting," she said. "One of our biggest attributes in the central Pennsylvania area is the beautiful Allegheny Mountains, as well as the hospitality of our residents. We also have a lot of fall harvest festivals going on. People just really like to enjoy the flavors of the area."
Mirror Staff Writer Jimmy Mincin is at 946-7460.