Jose A. Bernat Bacete—Getty Images
By Brad Tuttle
October 9, 2014

Much of the nation experienced a brutally cold winter in early 2014, followed by a surprisingly mild summer. According to the Weather Channel, Chicago had only three summer days when temperatures surpassed 90 degrees (it normally has 17 days of 90+ weather in August alone), while northeastern cities such as Boston, Philadelphia, and New York never crossed the 95-degree mark, which is also extremely rare.

Most recently, a relative absence of rain and strong winds, combined with weeks of mostly sunny days and chillier evenings, has helped create a scenario in which the fall foliage stands out as especially brilliant and long-lasting in spots known to attract leaf-peepers—the Appalachians and New England in particular. “It’s really what happens in late July to late September that sets the stage,” Michael Schlacter, a meteorologist at Weather2000.com, explained to Bloomberg News. “This is one of the most ideal two-month seasons you could have had; it has pretty much clinched the season.”

William Ostrofsky, forest pathologist for the Maine Forest Service, told the Portland Press Herald that largely thanks to the mild summer, this year’s foliage season is likely to rank among the top 10 best ever. “Everything is right on time and they’re going very brilliantly,” he said.

Likewise, Connecticut’s forests are expected to turn especially brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows in the very near future, with peak foliage reaching mid-state during the last two weeks of October, and peak colors along the coast in late October and early November. “Weather conditions have been advantageous this summer to set Connecticut up for a really nice foliage season with great colors,” Christopher Martin, director of the State Forester at Bureau of Natural Resources, said to the Middletown Press.

Yankee Magazine noted this week that “foliage has been boosted by a late spring, a mild summer growing season, and a bright sunny and dry autumn,” and that experienced leaf-peepers are on record saying this has “already been one of the best foliage seasons in recent memory.” The Connecticut River Valley along the Vermont-New Hampshire border should be experiencing peak foliage this holiday weekend, as should many lower-elevation mountain areas throughout New England.

On the other hand, some of the same weather factors that have led to terrific foliage are wreaking havoc on another traditional favorite fall pastime, apple picking. As the Boston Globe put it, “The winter was too cold, the summer not hot enough, and now comes an autumn of discontent for apple growers.”

Some orchards in Massachusetts are reporting that apple crops are down 50% this season, and many will have to shut down apple picking operations earlier than usual, if they haven’t done so already.

The bum year for apples isn’t limited to New England either. The Chicago Tribune reported that after long strings of frigid weather, orchards in Illinois have been forced to delay openings for apple pickings and perhaps even raise prices as means to cope. “It was as bad as bad can get,” one orchard owner said of the conditions. “It’s the worst crop we’ve ever had.”

Extremely dry weather in southern California, meanwhile, has compelled most apple orchards in the mountain town of Julian—known of hosting an annual Apple Days festival in early October—to shut down weeks before they normally do.

Perhaps this is all for the best. There’s a good case to be made that apple picking is a wasteful scam, in which tourists overpay for what’s often a mediocre product. They bring home far more apples than ever wind up using, and most bizarrely, they (OK: we) pay extra for the work of picking them.

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