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Autumn begins: Will weather pattern leave leaf-peepers blue?

On first day of autumn, thoughts often turn to the coming blaze of fall foliage. But in New England, an unusually hot and dry summer may portend a shorter, and paler display this year.

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A broader nationwide foliage forecast can be found on The Weather Channel, which features regional maps that outline when and where fall foliage will peak. Across the US, state tourism offices release reports and maps of fall forecasts provided by state officials, foresters, park rangers, or volunteers, many of whom are owners of hotels or inns.

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Volunteers or "foliage spotters" are the main source of information for The Foliage Network.

Jerry Roth, a volunteer leaf spotter and owner of the Ivy Bed and Breakfast in Warrenton, N.C., says that fall coloring hasn’t hit quite yet in North Carolina, where he says the leaves never get as red as the northern states. Mr. Roth believes that the dry weather will make leaves fall faster this season.

Jannette and Pat Quackenbush, owners of the Hocking Hills Maple Farm in Creola, Ohio, also participate as spotters for the Foliage Network. They follow fall weather because of its impact on planting, and pass their reports on foliage to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Mr. Quackenbush says fall colors have already started in Ohio with lighter yellows and oranges. He believes the season will peak between October 15 to 20.

Early autumn

Back in New England, Don McCasland, program director at Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory in Milton, Mass., said in an interview with The Patriot Ledger newspaper that the first signs of color are already visible in some areas, about 10 days earlier than normal.

“Because trees are not quite as healthy, the chlorophyll is going away faster so some trees are turning yellow quicker,” Mr. McCasland told the Ledger, adding that the red hues associated with some species of maple trees could be harder to find this fall.

He estimated that the foliage would peak in northern New England in early October, as long as a major storm doesn’t end things sooner.

Ted Howard, professor of forestry at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, emphasized too that the dryness of the just-ended summer could result in less vivid colors, and in weakened leaves that will be knocked down faster by pelting autumn rains.

He also anticipated the dreary inevitable flip side of every fall’s foliage spectacle: “In early November most colors will be gone,’’ he said. “There will be a few leaves here and there, and then it will be time to rake.”