Monday, October 11, 2021

Later Foliage Seasons And Polly's Pancake Parlor

A very pretty view from Williams Hill in Richmond, 
Vermont Sunday still shows some late season green
mixed with the fall foliage. Autumn colors are 
generally coming later than they uses to due to
climate change. 
 By my estimation, this is another later than average fall foliage season in Vermont.

At least, its late compared to what I can remember decades ago.  Most foliage seasons in recent years are later than they were in, say the 1960s and 1970s.  

I know that's subjective, but there you go. Scientists looking at this agree with me, and have the receipts. And those scientists have Polly's Pancake Parlor to thank for giving them a good bit of data to go on. 

Polly's Pancake Parlor in scenic Sugar Hill, New Hampshire has been there since 1938. It's an extremely popular place, and the restaurant is understandably slammed  this time of year as tourists flock to the White Mountains to check out the fall foliage. 

As the Washington Post describes it, so many visitors asked the owners of Polly's Pancake Parlor when peak foliage normally hits, they started keeping records in 1975.  They keep those daily recors to this day. Polly's staff eyeballs the landscape, noting when the leaves were mostly red, orange and yellow instead of green outside the restaurant. 

According to the Washington Post:

"Environmental scientist Stephanie Spera was thrilled when she saw the observations, which are posted on the restaurant's website. She said this is the 'longest record of fall foliage that she has found."

Satellite records of fall foliage only go back to 2000, so they're not nearly as much help.  Spera is also using tourists' photos of Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island in Maine to compare foliage seasons dating back decades.  

Spera and others have concluded that New England's fall foliage season is now happening a full week later than it was in the 1950s.

Here's the Washington Post again:

"The delay is partly linked to warmer temperatures, particularly at night, (Spera) said. During the day, leaves use the sunlight to produce sugars. Cooler nights help trap the sugars in the leaf. The sugars lead to the production of pigments, such as anthrocyanins, which produce the brilliant red seen in maple leaves."

I can tell you we've certainly have had warm nights this year, as a for instance. The coldest it's been so far in Burlington, Vermont this fall is 45 degrees.  Nine of the first eleven days of October have failed to drop below 50 degrees. 

Burlington's normal low this time of year is in the lower 40s and we've usually had our first frost of the season by now.  Not this year. This is the latest in the season the temperature has stayed above 40 degrees since at least 1948, according to the National Weather Service office in South Burlington.

As of this morning, peak foliage is occurring in most of Vermont, with areas of the Champlain and Connecticut River Valleys still relatively green. Only the coldest areas of the Northeast Kingdom and high elevations are past peak. A few decades ago, most of Vermont would be past peak by now.

From what I've seen anecdotally, the colors in Vermont this year are gorgeous. As always, a few pockets are a little dull and subdued, while other larger areas are almost vibrant enough to make your eyes hurt.

Long term, in the coming decade, this fall warming trend isn't great for New England fall foliage watchers.

First off, extreme weather can dull the colors. If the summer is too wet, a fungus can take over and make leaves just turn brown and drop.  The general trend with climate change in New England is wetter summers, the droughts of 2020 and the early part of summer 2021 notwithstanding.

Even longer term, it will become too warm for some of the trees that create the most brilliance, like sugar maples.  Species from further south, like poplar and oak will start to replace maples. Poplar and oak don't have the same brilliant fall colors as current native trees do. 

This year, though tardy, seems to be brilliant though. So get out there and enjoy.  The great weather forecast I mentioned yesterday hasn't changed. The rest of the week should be gorgeous

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