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Warmth delayed fall color in the Northland

Fallen maple leaves lay atop a fallen birch tree on the forest floor in Crosby Manitou State Park last week. Bob King /

The good news? If you haven't had time to catch the peak of fall color, you haven't missed it yet.

The bad news? There might not be as much peak as usual.

Tree experts and other leaf-watchers confirm that the general changeover to fall color is more than a week behind schedule. And they say September's unusually warm, dry weather might have muted the annual transition from green to gold and red.

"I'd say two weeks behind normal in most areas," said Jana Albers, forest health specialist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Albers, stationed in Grand Rapids, said lingering drought in September muted color development and the unusually warm weather last month "fools trees into thinking it's still summer." Duluth had its second-warmest September in recorded history.

"They didn't get the signal to stop being summer until this week," she said, adding that colors will be less vibrant.

Wednesday morning's hard freeze away from Lake Superior might not have helped matters. While a light frost can kick-start colors, temperatures well below freezing can stifle them. And Monday's gale-force winds brought many leaves to the ground.

"There will still pockets of great color, and some really colorful trees ... but maybe not as much as some years," Albers said.

Reports this week from across Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin indicate the major turnover might come during the next week.

Cathy Khalar at Brule River State Forest said Wednesday that most trees are 25 percent to 30 percent compared to the usual 50 percent, "but the color change should come very quick now. Normally, the color peak is around the first week of October."

At Jay Cooke State Park near Carlton, park staff reported about 50 percent color change as of mid-week. As in most areas, maples turn gaudy first, while many aspen are still summertime green or showing just a hint of yellow.

"Depending on where you are in the park, you can see anything from green aspen to scarlet maples," staff reported on Tuesday.

At Cascade River State Park along the North Shore, staff members report that maples are showing brilliant color away from Lake Superior, usually on the back side of the hills, while birches are turning gold closer to the shore.

At the Soudan Underground Mine State park on the Iron Range, the black ash in the swampy areas near the park are turning yellow. "The maples are turning red and the birch/aspen have a nice green/yellow coloration," staff reported Wednesday.