By RICK DOCKSAI, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - Fall officially starts Sunday, but trees across the state decided to get an early start.
Stressed by this summer's drought, leaves around the state are already changing colors or, in a few places, already falling, something that leaf-watchers said does not normally happen until sometime next month.
"Leaves are starting to drop and, yes, they are early," said Tom Riford, president and chief executive officer of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Riford is one of six volunteer Maryland "foliage watchers" for the Foliage Network who write weekly updates every fall on autumn foliage and the best sites to enjoy it. He noted that Frederick County's far corners are seeing the most leaf fall.
Some Baltimore County residents also say they are seeing trees shed their foliage.
"Our leaves are falling now. It's beautiful to walk outside," said Camilla Clark, Maryland Office of Tourism spokeswoman and a Catonsville resident. "They didn't last fall."
But the same thing that led to early leaf-drop could also mean less color this fall.
"If it's very dry, you might not have as much color. They might go brown a bit earlier," said Brian Lasorsa, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Weather forecasters say scarce precipitation this summer—the ninth-driest summer since 1871, according to the—took a toll on Maryland trees. NOAA measured only 9.53 inches of rain last summer, compared to 12.23 inches the summer before.
"It's been so dry. The trees have been more stressed than if it was a normal precipitation summer," Riford said.
Other counties, while not seeing leaves fall yet, are beginning to see the fall colors.
"There was some premature yellowing of the red maples," said Wade Dorsey, in the Garrett County office of the Department of Natural Resources' Forest Service. "Some of them have already changed, like they would later in fall."
Dorsey added that he would expect other parts of Maryland to be farther along in leaf-turning, though.
"Our area is a lot wetter than other parts of Maryland," he said.
In Washington County, Riford said the result is hues of gold and amber.
"A lot of the maples and other hardwoods are just beginning to show the first signs of what looks to be a brilliant fall foliage experience," he said of Washington County.
He added that while the scarce rainfall has been hard on trees, it may be a boon for tourism.
"It's been such beautiful weather that as the leaves turn, people are going to want to come and see the beautiful foliage of Maryland," Riford said.