First New England Fall Foliage Forecast
It’s just past 9PM in northern New England, and it’s getting quite dark. The first meteor of the annual August shower just streaked overhead, as bright as the brightest stars in the sky. The sun slipped out of view at 7:45PM this evening, and days are steadily growing shorter as the sun slips southward along the horizon. Already the goldenrod and Joe Pye weed are in bloom, and the animals are actively preparing for the changing seasons ahead. We know that soon we’ll see the arrival of cooler nights, crisp days, and perfectly clear bright blue skies. This fine weather will accompany agricultural fairs, apple cider, and drives through the countryside among the most spectacular display of autumn colors on the planet, and early data suggests we should have a strong fall foliage season ahead!
We can never be truly sure what each autumn season will look like until it gets here, and as such, predictions about peak color are hard to put together. The root of the problem lies with the lack of truly measurable data. In our diverse New England forests, color exists along a continuum, and peak is hard to pinpoint. Quality of autumn color is also extremely subjective. There is reasonable consensus though on what will bring out the best fall colors. According to the US Forest Service, ample spring rainfall, and a moderately dry summer with normally warm temperatures will set the stage for healthy trees going into autumn. Thereafter, you have to hope for warm sunny days and cool, but not freezing nights to make the colors really pop. So where do we stand this year?
If the stated indicators above truly bring about the best foliage, then thus far, we’ve had a pretty ideal setup for a dramatic color year in 2011. Ample rainfall doesn’t begin to describe the amount of precipitation this past spring. In northern New England, it rained on average every other day through the early part of the season. Burlington, Vermont had both its wettest April and May on record. With all the rain, spring arrived a bit late, as forest flowers and apple blossoms were running up to three weeks behind last year across the region.
The start of summer brought a significant drying trend across New England, and perhaps if the spring rains weren’t so incessant, we’d be talking about mild drought now. We’ve fortunately gotten well timed rainfall when things started to dry out though, and while my lawn has a few patches of brown, the trees are generally healthy and showing few signs of stress. All this follows the formula for an intense autumn show.
There is also reason to believe that the pieces will keep falling into place this autumn. Fall foliage responds to a number of short term environmental factors as autumn approaches, none more important than the slow steady onset of cool weather. The dream setup of cool nights and warm, dry sunny days could become a reality if the outlooks from the long-range climate prognosticators come to fruition. The forecast for September is for temperatures to continue above normal, but trending towards seasonable and normal during the heart of the foliage season. Predictions also call for near normal rainfall. This all sounds terrific now, and while the stars may indeed align, there’s time to fine tune this yet!
To make an early official call on the fall foliage forecast for New England in 2011, I’d expect a very strong display of yellows and bright oranges, with fair reds and limited browns. I believe that peak itself may be a bit late this year, but strong color should be around during the traditional peak times, as the conditions seem right for to set up a prolonged foliage season. Honestly, I’m quite excited about what could be a great show!
As Yankee’s new foliage forecaster and blogger, I’ll be posting each Wednesday to check in with regional conditions preview the upcoming weekend’s weather and color. I’ll offer tips for viewing and capturing your experiences, and share some of my favorite locations. I’m very much looking forward to sharing in the season ahead here with Yankee Magazine, and hope you follow along with me!
Check back each week for more 2011 foliage forecasts.