Foliage Report | New England Fall Foliage Forecast for 2013
A thick summertime haze hung over New England last night, turning the rare ‘blue moon’ a pink hue as it rose over the Atlantic. The air was warm, and a bit humid, but a cool breeze was blowing off the water. It was a perfect summer night, the kind that seem to make you wish time would slow down and let summer last for just a little while longer. Southward migrating nighthawks, flying overhead as it rose, assured me though that it would not.
Everywhere now, there are signs that autumn is creeping up on us. Morning mists fill the air over lakes and streams at dawn, which is coming later and later now. The fields are filled with late autumn flowers like goldenrod and Joe Pye weed. Farmstands are beginning to fill with a bountiful harvest, and the earliest apples are ripening on the trees. The most obvious signs though are in the wetlands, where swamp maples are already beginning to turn their autumn colors.
New Englanders eagerly await the autumn season for the promise of the perfect cool days and crisp clear nights that accompany some of the best autumn color on the planet. Fall is celebrated across the region by meandering through corn mazes, visiting orchards and pumpkin patches, and gathering at the numerous festivals and fairs throughout the autumn season. And of course, leaf peeping!
Joining the locals in these events are visitors from all over the world, whose trips range from annual escapes to once in a lifetime vacations. Everyone is in search of ‘peak foliage’…the mythical moment when all the leaves are brilliantly glowing in their boldest autumn coats. In truth, peak color is a continuum, spread out over a few weeks, and the region is blessed with enough variation in geography, topography and habitat that you can almost always find good color if you travel within the period of traditional peak.
That being said, no autumn season is ever the same. The color can range from predominantly yellow to overwhelmingly red. The periods of peak color can be long or short, and can come early or late. Foliage prediction is an inexact science, but we know that the best years are made possible by a warm, reasonably wet spring, a moderately warm summer with adequate rainfall, and an autumn season with clear days, cool nights and little rainfall.
So what might we be in store for this autumn? To begin to solve that puzzle, we have to take a look back at the weather during the past year and see how it has affected the forest canopy.
This past winter was great for skiers and snowboarders, and a good snow pack accumulated by spring despite a lack many truly arctic outbreaks. When April’s temperatures swung cooler than normal, the snow pack melted slowly, delaying spring and keeping the soil moisture high despite lower than normal precipitation during the early part of spring. Woodland ephemeral plants, flowering shrubs and the overhead leaf canopy all emerged later than normal this year, and without a late frost, it grew in good health.
The month of May continued with cool weather, as it took until the last day of the month before the city of Boston hit ninety degrees for the first time. Rainfall remained below normal, but periodic precipitation was timely, and provided a great early growing season for what will be our autumn foliage.
Towards the end of the month of May though, the pattern switched to one dominated by a Bermuda high, and a jet stream steered a series of weather systems over New England. Tropical like rainfall became abundant in June and July, and sunny, drying skies between storms were limited. By the end of July, after rain had fallen on nearly two-thirds of the calendar days, the state of Vermont had recorded its wettest two month period, ever, in any season.
Abundant summertime rainfall puts up a few yellow flags for followers of New England foliage. The best foliage tends to come when the come with moderately dry autumn soils, and as of now, you’d be hard pressed to even find any brown lawns in the region. The wet conditions can also lead to outbreaks of leaf fungus which can dull the autumn colors. Fortunately, thus far, we’ve not heard of any widespread outbreaks, but there are isolated areas and it’s worth keeping an eye on!
Overall, trees are not necessarily very stressed, and will likely produce average to good foliage color given a normal autumn weather pattern. And average New England foliage is beautiful!
The one exception to the rule are the swamp maples, which grow with their feet in the water on the edge of wetlands. It seems that the wetter the soil that the grow in, the earlier and redder their foliage becomes. Swamp maples are set to have a banner year, and are already beginning to change across New England. Their red leaves also stay longer on the branch than other maple trees, and should provide a show right through September in many areas!
Looking ahead, the next six to eight weeks will be critical in bringing out the best in fall colors. A significant drying trend, with warm days, cool nights and abundant sunshine could turn an average season into a great one. The National Climate Prediction Center, a division of NOAA, is calling for slightly warmer than normal temperatures, but find no significant trend in precipitation that might bump it below normal.
To make the official first New England Fall Foliage Forecast for 2013, if this long range weather forecast comes to fruition, our foliage season in New England will likely arrive at historically average times, or slightly late. Colors should be consistently good, with isolated pockets of exceptionally vibrant on hillsides. I would expect the color continuum to be towards the yellow/orange end of the spectrum, as we would really need drier, cooler weather to get the reds to pop.
Over the coming weeks, we at YankeeFoliage.com will be providing further autumnal analysis, and provide tips, insights and locations to help you plan your New England vacation this fall season.