ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Fall foliage in Maryland this year was unpredictable yet still delighted with breathtaking fall color, even if it was short-lived in some areas of the state. We began the season discussing possible leaf outcomes from this summer’s drought, and Marylanders in some regions certainly saw their share of premature leaf drop and subdued fall hues. The pace of leaf changes picked up markedly toward season’s end, with some of our Western Maryland foresters seeing changes in as little as 48 hours. As fall foliage draws to a close, our state foresters and park rangers – many of whom were first-time contributors to this report – summarize the season from their unique viewpoint in each region and show current foliage conditions across the state. For those of us who love (or hate) the winter, we’re including our predictions for the coldest months of the year as well.
According to Forester Aaron Cook, of Indian Springs Wildlife Management Area, a veteran fall foliage report contributor, the season exceeded expectations but not without a few effects from the summer drought.
“The 2024 fall foliage season in Frederick and Washington counties was more impressive than expected, and once underway, progressed at about the same pace as previous years,” Cook said. “Unique to this fall was the significant growing season drought in this area. It caused a widespread premature ‘mini leaf change’ in late summer that had many of us under the assumption that most of the peak season would be lackluster. During this early leaf change, large swathes of our ridges turned yellowish-brown and then dropped. Once October arrived, the unaffected trees began to change on schedule and in the instance of maples, their color was exceptional, if short-lived. The season culminated quickly, and leaf drop was rapid, with leaves going from near peak to past peak and falling in the span of a few days. Oaks were notably subdued this fall, which can be expected in dry years. It was still a glorious display, and hopefully a snowy winter will help to recharge aquifers and the vigor of our resilient trees.”
New to the fall foliage report this year, Ranger Kendra Bree brought us reports from Fort Frederick State Park and Sideling Hill Creek State Park. Bree’s keen eye and observations closely matched those of her colleagues in nearby areas of Western Maryland. “This is my first year at the park, but it seemed the leaves were slow to start changing colors, then fast to drop the leaves all at once,” Bree noted. “The trees were still mainly green throughout September and the first half of October, then the color exploded in late October, and now most of the leaves have fallen. I would guess that this past year’s mild winter and dry summer influenced the color change, at least in Western Maryland.”
The central region of our state welcomed another new set of eyes on the ground. Administrative Specialist David Gigliotti brought us reports from Rocks and Susquehanna State Parks where the trees shed their leaves swiftly, but not without some stunning displays of fall color to the delight of late season leaf peepers. “The leaves dried and fell more quickly than usual this year, but there were still some nice moments of color,” Gigliotti said. “The quieter winter shades of gray and brown are starting to settle in now.”
Seasonal Park Ranger Shin Ae Gonzalez joined us this year from Fair Hill Natural Resources Area and Bohemia River State Park. Gonzalez points to summer drought as the culprit of leaves falling quickly to the forest floor. But the area saw its share of autumn magic, with one fall color reigning supreme.
“As summer drought gave way to rain and wind, we saw more color than we expected,” said Gonzalez, “but signs of the drier days early in the summer were still visible. Crispy, brown leaf edges and early yellowing or leaf drop in drought-susceptible trees resulted in an autumn display which was not quite as exuberant as it could have been. Reds were especially vibrant this year, and we saw a whole variety of autumnal shades once the weather became reliably cool.”
Gonzalez reports there is some color remaining in the lower tree canopies for visitors to enjoy: “This week at Fair Hill, upper branches are bare while the lower levels still offer color. Much of our red has gone, everything is golden and russet, and the beech trees are clinging to the last of their leaves.”
The eastern region of our state usually enjoys an extended fall season with tree canopies in the area being some of the last to change color. Another new and welcome addition to this year’s report, Project Manager Andrew Amoruso, who covers Kent and Queen Anne’s counties for the Forest Service, reported a slightly later peak season this year: “I think the higher temperatures we experienced in October delayed peak foliage season in the southern region. Once the temperatures dropped, peak fall color did not last long.”
Project Forester Chase Kolstrom visited several sites in Charles County this fall to bring readers new photos and observations each week, and he believes weather played a crucial role in fall leaf color.
“This season’s foliage was unpredictable based on some of the earlier, unseasonably warm days and very cold nights over the past couple weeks,” Kolstrom said. “There are still a lot of leaves on the trees in southern Maryland, and vibrant colors still remain across the region.”
Without prolonged cold, the trees are slowly going through abscission — the process in which a tree or plant drops its leaves in the autumn and a new bud is formed. Wind and colder temperatures will speed this process up in the next few weeks, but for now it’s nice to still be able to enjoy the autumn colors in southern Maryland. Kolstrom is already looking forward to next fall foliage season: “I had fun getting out and watching the leaves change, but more importantly I hope my reports encouraged more outdoor enthusiasts to visit beautiful southern Maryland’s parks and forests.”
What to Expect from Winter in Maryland
A strong El Nino weather system is expected across the United States during the winter months, bringing with it increased chances for precipitation and colder temperatures in the southern states and drier, warmer weather in northern states. With Maryland geographically in between, it’s hard to predict what El Nino means for us. However, four of Maryland’s past big snow events occurred during El Niño winters, and weather forecasters have recommended paying close attention to evolving weather patterns and precipitation lines as we head into winter.
Baby it’s Cold Outside: How to Buy Firewood
One of the best ways to beat the winter blues is with a cup of cocoa and a cozy fire in your home fireplace. Burning real wood just gives a rich, dry heat that warms us from the inside out. DNR receives many calls from people with questions about buying firewood, and there are a few things you should know about wood and the laws regarding selling firewood that will help you choose the best options for your home. For tips on selecting a firewood dealer and comparing different wood, visit the Maryland Forest Service website.
Winter in Maryland means wide open views and starry nights, and there’s no better way to enjoy the outdoors any time of year than camping at one of our gorgeous state parks. While most of our campsites are only open during the warmer months, a few sites are open until December or even year-round! See which parks offer this longer camping season and visit our reservation site for availability of specific campsites or cabins. For those looking for a little extra shelter from the chilly nights, many of our cozy cabins are heated and open into the winter months. To learn more about all park amenities available to visitors during the winter season, visit Maryland State Parks’ webpages or call an individual park’s office for the most up-to-date information.
Watch the Night Sky
Celestial gifts arrive just in time for the holidays, giving sky watchers the chance to wish upon dozens of shooting stars in the coming days and weeks. The Leonids are active until December 2, peaking November 17-18. The Geminids, known for their reliably bright and intensely colored meteors, will be active starting Nov. 19 and are slated to wrap up on Christmas Eve, according to the American Meteor Society. The moon doesn’t appear to be a spoiler this year, so viewers will be able to watch the dazzling display without distractions. With little moonlight interruption, those with an eye to the sky could see up to 150 meteors per hour.