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Warm temperatures are screwing up Maine’s famous foliage

Wildflowers, fall foliage and 6,288-foot Mt. Washington serve as a backdrop for Jim and Kathleen Gannon and their son James as their daughter Katarina snaps a picture at Crawford Notch State Park in New Hampshire, Friday, Oct. 6, 2006.
AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty
The leaves are running a bit behind.
  • David Yanofsky
By David Yanofsky

Editor of code, visuals, and data

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

A warm September has pushed off the turning of the leaves in Maine. As a result, travelers looking to take in the changing color of the leaves—known as leaf peepers—in the northeastern US state have so far come away disappointed by the lack of autumnal coloring.

Indeed, reports on the ground are confirmed by what satellite images show: The state is much greener now than at the same time last year.

Gale Ross, the Fall Foliage Coordinator from the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry told Quartz she thinks it has been at least 10 years since the leaves turned this late. It’s a development which threatens the tourism industry not only in Maine (whose license plate proudly proclaims it “Vacationland”) but also all around the rural northeast.

8.7 million daytime and overnight visitors traveled to Maine in fall 2014 (pdf) according to the state’s Office of Tourism and Visitor Tracking Research. State officials also estimated that tourists spent $1.6 billion that fall season, accounting for 30% of all annual tourism spending in 2014.

Later turning is worrisome because it puts leaves—which become fragile in the fall—at risk of falling due to inclement weather and thus the tourists to come to the state to peep. Rain, wind, and snow, can all knock leaves off trees before they’re able to reach warm hues. The year-to-year fluctuations of the leaves is primarily the result of local weather, but a longer trend towards later foliage has been attributed to global warming.

The leaves in northern Maine haven’t turned this late since at least 2011, according to the oldest available historical records posted to the Maine government’s foliage tracking website. Normally, northern Maine peaks the last weekend in September, Ross says.

However leaf peepers should note some good news—this weekend leaves in northern Maine are projected to finally fade to their familiar red, orange and purple hues. Leaves in central Maine are expected to follow next weekend. As Ross noted “we have to leave it up to mother nature.” Hopefully, mother nature is worth the wait.

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