Despite drought, fall color forecast remains pretty

States list phone numbers, Web sites for leafy updates

Strategies

September 22, 2002|By Donald D. Groff | Donald D. Groff,Knight Ridder / Tribune

Conventional wisdom holds that drought diminishes the brilliance of autumn foliage, but the dry summer in the Northeast may in fact have little effect on the colors, according to some professional observers.

In central Pennsylvania's 200,000-acre Bald Eagle State Forest, district forester Amy Griffith paints a pretty picture for prospects of a normal autumn.

"Moisture can affect color, but we have found that generally it really doesn't affect it all that much," she said.

"The northern half of the state hasn't been as impacted by the drought as the southeastern section has been," she said. "There are some trees that are a little less tolerant of drought that have dropped some leaves early, but not very many.

"As we get into fall, we are starting to get a little more rain," she added. "As long as the trees aren't so stressed that they drop their leaves early, I think that we should have pretty normal color this fall."

Regardless of how the colors change, tracking foliage on the Internet will be easier this year than ever. In recent years, many state tourism sites began posting leaf reports for their regions, and this year more regional sites have jumped on that bandwagon.

Yankee Magazine's foliage site at www.yankeefoliage.com has extensive information on the New England states, as well as useful links on topics such as how to best photograph the color. The U.S. Forest Service foliage site is at www.fs.fed.us / news / fallcolors; its foliage number is 800-354-4595.

Here's a list of other phone numbers, with state tourism Web sites, many of which also provide regular updates. (Leaf reports generally don't begin until the color changes begin, so try back if necessary.)

* Maryland, 800-532-8371; www.mdisfun.org.

* Pennsylvania, 800-325-5467; www.fallinpa.com. Also, for the Poconos region, 570-421-5565, www.800poconos.com.

* New Jersey, 609-777-0885; www.visitnj.org.

* Delaware, 800-441-8846; www.visitdelaware.net.

* Virginia, 800-434-5323; www.virginia.org.

* West Virginia, 800-225-5982; www.callwva.com.

* Connecticut, 800-282-6863; www.ctbound.org.

* Maine, 800-777-0317; www. state.me.us / doc / foliage.

* Massachusetts, 800-227-6277; www.massvacation.com.

* New Hampshire, 800-258-3608; www.visitnh.gov.

* New York, 800-225-5697; www.iloveny.com.

* Rhode Island, 401-222-2601; www.visitrhodeisland.com.

* Vermont, 800-837-6668; www.1-800-vermont.com.

In brief

Airlines scrambling, and that means fare bargains

Times are crazy for the airlines, so now is a great time to look for cheap flights. In midsummer, airfares were down to levels not seen since 1988, the Air Transport Association reports.

"The best thing for passengers is for things to get crazy among the airlines," said Al Comeaux, spokesman for Travelocity, which tracks airline travel around the world. "The airlines now are undercutting each other and doing clandestine deals," he said. "They are all watching to see what the others will do."

Comeaux added, "When everything is organized, you don't get any deals."

Organization in the past meant airfare sales showed up at relatively regular times, seasonally and for certain holidays but not much in between.

Now airlines have all manner of sales, and they show up at unpredictable times: Web fare sales; weekend Web fare sales; sales offered by certain travel agents; sales to a few destinations; sales to compete with low-fare carriers such as Southwest, Spirit and Jet Blue; last-minute sales; 12-hour sales; and sales that seem designed to punish competing airlines for not matching proposed price increases.

"It's dog-eat-dog out there," said Pam Nikitas, of Joan Anderson Travel in Detroit.

"We saw 45,000 fares go down in the middle of July," Comeaux added. "That's really unusual."

In early August, usually a quiet time, Northwest and American had a nine-day airfare war in Detroit. American led the way, offering discounts through selected travel agents. In mid-August, Northwest jumped the gun and announced its fall sale. Other airlines were forced to follow.

What's driving all this? The airlines, with the exception of a few low-fare carriers, are losing money fast.

First, it was the passenger nervousness that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Then it was the economy, which dipped and now promises to double dip. A few airlines declared bankruptcy.

Big airlines quickly realized they had too many planes with too many flights going to too many destinations -- but too few passengers. About 10 percent of U.S. passengers have yet to return to flying since Sept. 11.

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