Autumn colors to fall short

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GAINESVILLE, Ga. - The brilliant fall color display across Georgia's forests is expected to be shorter and more muted this year.

The weather roller-coaster earlier this year is to blame. Unseasonably warm temperatures in March made plants bloom early, and the early April freeze killed many of those young leaves. The drought that has persisted through the summer, coupled with a long heat wave in August, also stressed the trees.

So many leaves are withering and falling before they get a chance to change their color.

"The trees have taken such a beating this year, some of them just seem to be shutting down early," said Mark Raines, a forest health specialist with the Georgia Forestry Commission.

But some trees are hardier than others, so there's still hope for some colorful foliage.

"Some species, such as sourwoods, are already turning color and could drop their leaves early. But the oaks and hickories seem to be hanging on to theirs," said Scott Merkle, a professor of forestry at the University of Georgia.

A cold snap should still be able to bring out brilliant hues.

"The next cool snap we get may be enough to set the color off," said Mitch Cohen, the spokesman for the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest in Gainesville. "Once they start to change, I think they're going to go pretty quickly."

On average the third week of October brings out the most vivid color in North Georgia.

For updates on fall colors, go to:

- Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest: www.fs.fed.us/conf/fall/falcolor.htm (weekly foliage updates starting Oct. 1)

- Georgia State Parks: www.gastateparks.org (Leaf Watch page begins by Oct. 1)


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