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Despite drought, colorful leaves likely


Tree experts have been debating the effect Maryland's long summer drought might have on the colorful riot of fall foliage.

Prognosticators warned earlier that the autumn display might be disappointing, theorizing that stressed trees would conserve meager water supplies by shedding leaves prematurely.

But more recent forecasts suggest late September rains and a return to seasonal weather will produce the usual or even superior displays.

Maryland's fall foliage hot line, a toll-free telephone service, for example, suggested last weekend that conditions indicate "what could turn out to be one of the prettiest autumns on record" in Western Maryland.

National Park Service forecaster Janet Stombock, who watches the colors turn along Skyline Drive in Virginia, says: "I don't think it's going to be that bad after all. It's a little slow now, but once it starts, it's going."

Here's how to check on the status of coloration:


The toll-free fall foliage hot line, 800-LEAVES-1, or (800) 532-8371, offers a recorded forecast of leaf activity, including projected peak colors at various locations. Colors are expected to peak in Garrett and Allegany counties during the first two weeks of October. In addition, the service includes information on weekend fall festivals and other events that leaf-peepers might want to visit.


Maryland's northern neighbor has launched a similar hot line: 800-FALL-IN-PA -- that's (800) 325-5467.

Like Maryland's, the service has been expanded this year to include information on festivals and other events, says Office of Travel and Tourism spokeswoman Judi Kassab.


Just the color forecasts -- not related events -- are featured on Virginia's foliage hot line: (800) 434-LEAF, which is sponsored by the Shenandoah Valley Travel Association and went into service this week, according to Julie Grimes of the state's tourism department.

Visitors particularly interested about conditions on Skyline Drive, the scenic highway maintained by the National Park Service that stretches south from Front Royal, can also get updated information by calling (540) 999-3483.


The U.S. Forest Service operates a toll-free recorded service that gives foliage forecasts throughout the country: (800) 354-4595.

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