Michigan leaves changing about a week later than usual

John L. Russell
Special to the Detroit News

Gaylord — The color is coming. It’s just taking a little longer this year.

Warm summer weather has slowed the annual fall leaf-changing spectacle of color, as trees are beginning to turn Up North.

“The warm, dry summer has delayed things,” said meteorologist Jim Keysor of the Gaylord office of the National Weather Service. “ “People will just have to wait. Colder nights are coming and the color show will happen.”

“We’re a week to 10 days behind,” he estimated.

The National Weather Service recorded plenty of 90-degree days through August — five in June, nine in July and seven in August.

“We’re probably at 40 percent to 60 percent right now,” said accounting assistant Gina Penegor of the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in Ontonagon of the Upper Peninsula. “We’ve had a light frost and this weekend could be the best time to view color here. In the last five days it’s really changed a lot.”

Diane St. Amour, president of the Keweenaw Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, thought the color in the Keweenaw is getting more bold. “The weather is getting cooler,” she said. “I think we’re going to see some vibrant colors soon. It’s going to be awesome.”

That same sentiment that echoed throughout the Upper Peninsula is also true throughout the northern Lower Peninsula counties.

“By all accounts, the color is coming a little bit later with all the great weather we’ve been having,” said Michelle Grinnell, the public relations manager of Travel Michigan, in a statement. “That extends our fall travel season.”

Grinnell said that the fall tourism season is expected to have a $3.7 billion economic impact on Michigan in 2016.

Michigan has 19 million acres of woodlands. The golds, yellows and reds of autumn usually begin in mid-September and work their way south from Lake Superior, peaking in late October in the lower counties along the Indiana and Ohio borders.

The process that starts the color to change from green to yellow, red or orange is actually a growth process, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As nights get longer, the corky layer of cells in the leaf and stem block movement of materials such as carbohydrates to the branches, as well as minerals from the roots to the leaves.

In the fall, the production of chlorophyll slows, then stops. Autumn colors are the result, as chlorophyll no longer blocks yellow and orange pigments and the colors appear when the green color disappears. As the corky cells dry, the leaves fall.

“We’re looking at Oct. 10-20 for good touring,” said Peter Fitzsimons, executive director of the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau. “We’ve had no frost yet, but the weather is slowly changing. The color will be a little later than usual.”

Keysor said the National Weather Service is just now looking ahead toward what the winter might bring.

“Compared to last year, we are going to be much colder, so we’re thinking winter may be a little more normal than last year,” he said.

“Probably around Thanksgiving we will see a shift toward winter conditions, with near-normal temperatures and average snowfall. It will appear to be a little more harsh than last winter, which started late and was mild. This winter will be good for outdoor recreation.”

The 2017 Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts this winter will be exceptionally cold, “if not downright frigid.” The Northern Plains, Great Lakes and Midwest, all the way to New England can expect “very cold weather” extending as far south as Florida and the Gulf Coast, with near or below-normal precipitation over the nation’s midsection.

John L. Russell is a photojournalist and writer from Traverse City.