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‘We’ve never seen anything like this’: Fall foliage is still missing in action across the Mid-Atlantic

Some fall color beginning to appear at Shenandoah National Park on Oct. 13 (ESMIller59 via Flickr)
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By the final third of October, fiery colors of fall are usually all over the place in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Not this year. While we are still at least a week or two from typical peak fall foliage in the immediate D.C. area, this year’s delay in autumn color is unlike anything in recent memory.

A combination of extended warmth and humidity until very recently is probably a chief cause, as is the extremely rainy summer and early fall. Before the past few cold fronts, it was certainly difficult to tell what time of year it was.

The Foliage Network’s latest update cuts right to the chase. “The bizarre foliage season continues!” its latest report says. "In the ten years we have covered this region, we’ve never seen anything like this. The fall color is still on hold.”

A mash-up of its reports from the past 10 years at this time shows it is not fibbing.

Green continues to dominate much of the Mid-Atlantic and surrounding region. Way too much green.

Although decrease in light duration per day is a primary trigger for fall foliage and that change is now proceeding quickly, color is also dictated by environmental conditions, i.e. the weather. And this year, the weather is apparently playing a major role in the timing and intensity of fall color.

The delayed color is not just a local phenomenon. As odd as it is here, it may be even more so in some places to our north, such as parts of southern New England. The image below shows very little color in and around Hartford, Conn. Definitely peculiar for this late up there.

Farther north in New England, there has been plenty of leaf peeping, and the season there is now coming to a close.

The latest report out of Maryland uses words such as “disappointing” mixed in with phrases such as “green and brown dominate” for higher-elevation areas toward the western part of the state that should be at or near peak.

"I am not sure we will have a big swath of color on the ridges in unison this fall,” said Aaron Cook, state forester in Clear Spring.

In other locations farther east, there is still some hope for a decent display of color, given that foliage is just starting to change.

“By this time, you may be wondering if the green forest will ever change!” begins the Virginia Department of Forestry’s latest report. It notes that at very high elevations, color is about 30 percent or greater. Indicating the best is yet to come, it is on the lookout for the potential of expanding reds across the region over the next week or so.

Around Washington, color remains sporadic at best. However, since we have just recently entered a consistently cooler pattern, and average peak is through now and early November, it is not yet time to give up on this season around here.

While it’s too soon to give up on fall color this year, one has to wonder whether the delayed and dulled foliage is a preview of fall to come.

Fall in recent years has tended to be warmer than normal, overall. Last year we were also wondering where it was, well into November. Shifts in fall foliage patterns are expected as the climate-change signal strengthens.

“Projections for the end of the century suggest the warmer temperatures would delay the onset of peak colors, but also make them disappear sooner, leading to a shorter season,” Climate Central writes.

Despite some bad news about this year’s color so far, keep in mind that even in crummy years there are plenty of pretty scenes to be seen. Much of the fun is the exploration involved in finding them.

Keep track of changes in Maryland (or 1-800-LEAVES1), Virginia and West Virginia yourself! And this fall, please share your fall foliage photos with us on Twitter and Facebook, and in our Flickr group.