Will Fall Colors Ever Arrive In Western PA?

Oct 29, 2018

Western Pennsylvania usually has spectacular fall colors, but this year they’re late and lackluster.

Blame the rain for the season’s underwhelming leaves.

Ryan Reed, an environmental education specialist with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Bureau of Forestry, said the summer’s wet weather contributed to the spread of anthracnose fungus on some of the region’s maple trees.

“Those leaves would either be peaking right now or already have peaked, and we might be at the tail end of it at this point,” he said.

Instead, the fungus caused the leaves to die and fall to the ground before they even had a chance to change color, he said.

Pittsburgh has experienced more than 46 inches of rain so far this year, which is 14 inches above normal, according to National Weather Service data.

Peak color for trees across southern Pennsylvania typically hits Oct. 23-24, but these trees along the Monongahela River, like so many in Pittsburgh, are still green. Ryan Reed of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources says urban tree species differ from wild tree communities, but they generally hit their best color around the same time.
Credit Amy Sisk / WESA

Pathogens like fungus thrive in moisture, wreaking havoc on more than just leaves. Fungus has plagued fall crops this year, with some farmers reporting damage to pumpkins and tomatoes.

Reed said it’s impractical to treat the region’s trees to protect them from fungus because the problem is so widespread and different types of fungus attack different trees.

“When we’re dealing with the conditions we’ve seen the past couple years — these extremely wet summers — this is just something we’ll have to get used to,” he said.

He said fungus has been a problem the past two years. While it’s too early to pinpoint climate change as the culprit, he said it’s on his mind as climate science indicates wetter summers may be in store.

Nevertheless, he said many parts of western Pennsylvania will hit peak color this week when the leaves of other tree species like oaks and poplars turn.

Reed assembles a weekly map showing the status of fall foliage by county, with information he gathers from foresters throughout the state.

The map indicates that color is beginning to fade in the Laurel Highlands.

Reed creates a new map each week during the fall showing the status of foliage across the state.
Credit Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Anna Weltz, director of public relations and community outreach for the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, said she’s noticed that trees are still green in the valleys but have already dropped leaves along the mountaintops. She said different shades of fall colors are sprinkled throughout, and it’s still worth a road trip before all the leaves fall.

“In chats with tourism partners, the season has been great,” she said. “I’m pleased to report that we have not seen any of our scheduled motor coach groups cancel.”

Reed said he too has not noticed a drop in interest in fall foliage. He said he still receives the same amount of inquiries as good leaf years -- about 10 a day -- from people wanting to know the best spots to check out the trees.

In western Pennsylvania, he said he would recommend a trip to eastern Clarion County or northern Jefferson County to catch the red oaks through early November.

“I’m expecting that area should have some really beautiful scarlet color that comes with the red oak peak,” he said.

For those willing to drive a little further east, he said forests in the north-central part of the state, including Elk, Moshannon, Sproul, Tiadaghton and Bald Eagle, are also dominated by oak trees about to make their best fall showing.