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New England Foliage in the Aftermath of Hurricane Irene

New England Foliage in the Aftermath of Hurricane Irene
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Posted Monday, August 29th, 2011

Every fall in New England, we celebrate the best in beauty that Mother Nature can bring. While spending time preparing for the hard season ahead, we revel in the sublime tranquility of autumn as the landscape explodes into color. But Mother Nature does have another side to her, and this past weekend, we were reminded how quickly she can bring unimaginable destruction to a place that otherwise seems stable, serene and idyllic.

Before the storm late last week, I spent some time researching how tropical systems in New England have had an effect on autumn colors in past years. Heavy rainfall this time of year doesn’t do the colors any favors, but it wouldn’t be a season killer. Winds would remove some leaves and branches, but this early in the season, most would hold strong. The setup to this year’s foliage season was otherwise quite ideal, and overall, it seemed that in spite of the imposing storm, the season was to be saved. And then the rains began.

Satellite View of Tropical Storm Irene as it Enters New England

Satellite View of Tropical Storm Irene as it Enters New England

By now you no doubt know that historic rainfall fell in an arc from the western mountains of Maine, through the heart of the White Mountains, into Central and Southern Vermont, and down to the Berkshires. Pulled by gravity, small streams turned into torrents of water which overflowed their banks and rearranged everything once along them. The sound was unimaginable, resonant and full. Boulders rearranging themselves on the river-bottom provided bass, the current the mid-tones, and percussive sounds interjected as trees snapped and debris crashed. The power of the water was was indescribable. Rivers rerouted through roads, topping then toppling bridges, and carrying away houses. And now the aftermath is unbelievable.

The landscape of New England, even the land itself is now changed, and we are reminded of our vulnerability. Towns are isolated, roads and bridges are gone. The crops whose harvest we celebrate, the livelihood of the farmers, have been destroyed. New England has lost a yet uncounted number of covered bridges, which have stood for decades and centuries against countless floods and ice flows. History has been erased in an instant, washed away by raging waters, and honestly, raging doesn’t even seem characterize the conditions near every waterway this past weekend.

I believe these videos demonstrate what I’m trying to characterize and describe above. A quick search on Youtube or Twitter would most certainly allow you to check in on your favorite foliage spot:

Jackson, New Hampshire During Tropical Storm Irene

Quechee Covered Bridge During Tropical Storm Irene

Quechee Bridge Barely Survives As The Water Recedes

At this point, it’s hard to say how long the recovery will take. Major roads like the Kancamagus Highway, Routes 302 and 16 in New Hampshire, Rt. 27 in Maine and portions of Rt. 100 in Vermont remained closed due to large washouts, and may be closed for some time. Every road through a notch in Maine and New Hampshire has seen damage. There is no way in or out of Waterville Valley in New Hampshire or Pittsfield in Vermont, and the same can be true of countless neighborhoods and villages.

And so, the changing seasons and colorful leaves matter little in the famed foliage areas of Northern New England today. I’ve connected with friends and family, who have shared their stories and, regardless of how little or how much they’ve lost, they all believe it could have been worse. I know I was very lucky; my cleanup was limited to sweeping my deck, but I am left with an empty feeling stemming from empathy and perhaps from lack of shared burden.

In a few more days, we’ll all have a better idea of a time-line for a return to new-normal. We know that there is a significant buffer of time before the start of the New England foliage season, and the weather this week couldn’t be better for drying out and beginning the recovery from the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. The leaf canopy really didn’t fare to badly in the storm, and it should still shape up to be a good season. And New England needs the season to be strong; the economy needs it, and the human spirit needs it. Hang in there…

Check back each week for more 2011 foliage forecasts.

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31 Responses to New England Foliage in the Aftermath of Hurricane Irene

  1. North Woodstock August 29, 2011 at 6:12 pm #

    As always, another GREAT read Jim! I love your way with words…

    • Terry August 30, 2011 at 5:38 pm #

      Nicely said Jim!!

  2. frances August 29, 2011 at 8:10 pm #

    Thanks for your helpful blog. I have a yen for fall color,( I live in so. Calif., but went to school in New England)) but was afraid the storm might have knocked off all of the leaves. I’m going to chance it.

  3. Ben August 29, 2011 at 10:15 pm #

    Your pen is as good as your lens! Wonderfully written.

  4. chris August 29, 2011 at 10:22 pm #

    I’m planning a huge 3 week trip to all of New England starting 10/1. Are the roads, farms, bridges so damaged that I should cancel my trip?

  5. Miranda Gatewood August 29, 2011 at 11:33 pm #

    So glad you’re writing this blog. Your images are great, as is your expertise. I live in Eastern Long Island and spend a lot of time in NH. Irene left us to wreak havoc in the Northern Country. Sad to see the damage in NH–my “Other Paradise.” Much hope that it will snap back by Fall foliage time.

  6. Ann August 30, 2011 at 10:59 am #

    Thanks for the update. I was checking this site over the weekend for reports and hadn’t found any. We’ve visited Jackson and the White Mtn. area twice during the Fall season and love it there and were hoping things weren’t too badly damaged. The loss of the covered bridges is very sad, and I hope your economy doesn’t suffer too much more as a result of the agricultural and potential tourist losses.

  7. Shirley August 30, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

    We have a trip planned starting 09.23.11 for Belfast, Maine to attend Common Ground Country Fair. We will be staying week in Belfast. On the way home we have a stop in Bennington, Vt. What can you tell us about this area? Thanks so much, Shirley

  8. Jim Salge August 30, 2011 at 1:31 pm #

    Chris, a bit to early to tell yet about scrapping the trip…by my inclination would be no. The color should still be there, and a lot of the roads will reopen in time. Rt. 16 in Pinkham Notch and Waterville Valley are both open with one lane already today. The bridge collapses will be longer term of course…

    Shirley, Belfast is in a lot better shape than Bennington right now, as a bridge collapsed on one of the main routes into town. Again, probably still to early to tell…but Bennington was pretty hard hit…

  9. Jill August 30, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

    Just drove from the Northeast Kingdom (VT) across the northern tier and down the west side of the state. Yes, we still have all of our beautiful trees and they are just beginning to show the telltale signs the fall changeover. Please do come and visit us! Please bring patience for the road repairs, but we promise that our foliage will not dissapoint, nor will our hospitality!

    • Betsy Musser September 1, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

      When would be the best time to come see the leaves?

  10. Laura August 30, 2011 at 4:37 pm #

    My husband and I have been planning our honeymoon (16 years late mind you, and with NO children…yay!) and I feel so bad asking, especially with so many who have lost so much…..but out travel dates are October 10 thru 14. We are supposed to be staying in Rockport, MA, and were going to take some day trips to the Berkshires…..should we still keep these plans? Thanks so much for your blog! We don’t get these kind of colors in Colorado, and I have been so looking forward to this for the past year! I really appreciate your input!

    • Jamie Trowbridge August 30, 2011 at 7:36 pm #

      To any who were planning trips to see the foliage in New England:

      Come Along! Most of the road washouts will be fixed before you get here. You may be detoured along a beautiful river to another bridge if one is still washed out. So what? After all, you are coming to see the scenery. Despite Irene’s impact, you will find the New England landscape (as well as the New Englanders themselves) resilient. It’s going to be a beautiful fall. It always is.

      Jamie Trowbridge, President, Yankee Magazine

      • C.Lyons August 30, 2011 at 11:19 pm #

        I/m getting a bit concerned. I’m afraid were going to miss color all together. We are coming in to MA the 21st of Sept and leaving Oct. 9. Our plans are to spend the first three days on the coast of Mass and Maine and then head to mid New Hampshire to the Lake Squalm area. We are next scheduled to Stowe, Vermont for 2 days and finally to Lake Placid in NY. We then come back to Lennox for a week at Fox Hollows timeshare where we thought we could take day trips into lower Vermont, Conn., etc. Will the color all come AFTER we leave with all the rain?

        • Jamie Trowbridge August 31, 2011 at 10:56 am #

          Those are great dates to come. With two weeks to travel and those great destinations, you are going to experience some phenomenal views. Usually the foliage is not as striking on the coast as in the mountains, but it’s a wonderful (blustery) time to be near the water. If you are going to the White Mountains, Stowe, and Lake Placid near to Oct. 9, you will hit peak foliage somewhere in there. Have a great trip!

        • Suzette September 1, 2011 at 8:28 pm #

          To C. Lyons,

          I live in Florida and do not have tons of experience with the fall foliage schedule. I will share that we visited the Adirondacks last year, 2010, during the last week of September and we were told that we hit the peak week. One week later October 9, our local paper had a photo of Lake Placid covered in snow. The storm bringing the snow had blown all of the leaves off the trees. We made it just in time! After that experience I would be hesitant to hope that the Adirondacks would have great color beyond the end of September, but what we did see was fabulous!!!

        • C.Lyons September 2, 2011 at 12:28 am #

          Thanks!…but…..we are actually visiting the higher mountains BEFORE Sept 30. We will be in Lennox from Sept. 30 to Oct. 6. I guess we could venture further than
          a 100 mile day trip to get back up north. Any chance of seeing good color from Sept 24 thru the 29th?

      • L.Salazar September 4, 2011 at 12:55 pm #

        I have tried unsuccessfully to locate the Yankee magazine September/October issue “Chasing Color”. Four of us are traveling to New England from New Mexico on Sept. 25th, and would like to have this issue as a reference. Is there any way we can get a copy in the next couple of weeks?

  11. Val & Doug Caldwell August 30, 2011 at 8:46 pm #

    We are in Australia and have been planning a trip for 12months to immerse ourselves in the entire New England “Fall Foliage” experience for 3weeks. Thanks for your uplifting comments. We will be there soon to explore the breath taking scenery, enjoy the warm hospitality of the locals and spend our tourist $$ to support their livelihoods. Can’t wait!!!

  12. Linda Rousselle August 30, 2011 at 9:44 pm #

    I am from New Orleans and I took a year off from teaching just to go to Vermont in the fall. My trip is scheduled for Oct. 9-16. I am not canceling because I know what it would do to Vermont’s economy. Tourist stopped coming to New Orleans after Katrina and our economy suffered tremendously. If any of the roads are open by then, we will be there. Can’t wait!

  13. Janine August 31, 2011 at 6:31 am #

    Thank you for your spirited and welcoming comments, I too have planned (for 20 years) to visit Vermont from Australia and am booked in at Woodstock on the 3rd Oct – from all reports Woodstock VT was hit hard as were many other towns…the last thing I want is to cancel but am a bit concerned with all the reports on how devestated the area is. I have been considering changing accomodation but at this late stage its nearly impossible. So relieved to hear the leaves will still show off, perhaps my $$ can help assist rebuilding…

  14. Jim Salge August 31, 2011 at 4:32 pm # has put up a comprehensive map of the current road closures, which will update over time and as the season gets closer. I think it’s encouraging how many of the roads have already reopened, now only three days after the storm. Crews are working hard out there!

    Road Closure Map

  15. kathryn sheehan September 1, 2011 at 6:46 am #

    My thoughts and prayers go to my neighbors in Vermont. Though just over the border in New York I think of myself as a New Englander. This hurricane was horrible in its destruction but I know that you will and already have pulled together as a community to heal and re-build.

  16. Elizabeth Carpenter September 1, 2011 at 10:05 am #

    My husband and I travel yearly Oct to the beautiful Windham HIll Inn in Vermont and travel New England. We will not cancel and know that whatever and wherever we have to travel it will be beautiful! Thanks you for all the updates,so helpful!

  17. Chris September 6, 2011 at 11:10 pm #

    Hi! What is the latest news on road repairs in Vermont and New Hampshire?

  18. Dave Whalley October 25, 2011 at 9:50 am #

    I have a question. A logger friend of mine told me that Hurricane Irene affected the foliage
    because of the salt content in the rain from the storm. It doesn’t make much sense to me.
    Is there more salt in rain water from a huricane?

    • Jim Salge November 1, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

      Hi Dave,

      The storm itself didn’t have any more salt in it than a normal storm…the process of evaporation distills the water when it leaves the ocean. However, near the coast, the spray from the waves put a large amount of salt in the air which did burn the leaves this year. The effects of which weren’t seen far from the coastline though…

      The main cause for the widespread lackluster foliage was the lack of cool weather…the abundance of rainfall…and a fungus whose spread was made possible by the rainfall and lack of cool weather…


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