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Signs Point To An Early Autumn Season in New England

Posted Wednesday, September 12th, 2012
Signs Point To An Early Autumn Season in New England
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The meteorological battles that wage every September between summer and fall are oft fought on violent fronts. New England had an incredibly powerful line of storms move through this past Saturday night, but Sunday dawned clear and cool. It’s unlikely it will be the the last such conflict this season, but the ferocity of the warmth’s return will eventually diminish as cool weather inevitably wins the war.

The autumn-like air arrived on a gusty northwest wind, a signal recognized by the region’s raptors as an impetus to begin migration. New England serves as a major flyway for birds heading back south from their summer nesting grounds, and for many, watching the birds circle and kettle from high ridges is an exciting rite of autumn. Thousands of Broad Winged Hawks were already on the move this week, and many more are staging in the area, waiting for the next cold front to move through to start their journey.

There are many ‘Hawk-Watching’ locations scattered around New England where you can become a citizen scientist, learning about and helping to count these beautiful birds along their southward journey. Some of the most popular spots include:

  • Pack Monadnock in New Hampshire
  • Putney Mountain in Vermont
  • Mount Wachusett in Massachusetts
  • Quaker Ridge in Connecticut

In a normal year, most of these migrants will have moved on by the time that autumn color comes on strong, but it’s beginning to look like this year’s forecasts for an early autumn are validating. This past week I spent time in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and found a surprising amount of color at the higher elevations. At Kancamagus Pass, at an elevation of nearly 3000 feet, I found maybe 15% of the trees turning, and boldly standing out amongst the otherwise green hillsides. In my experience, this amount of quality color is about a week ahead of a normal year’s schedule.

Early Color Is Emerging at Higher Elevations in the White Mountains
Early Color is Emerging at Higher Elevations in the White Mountains

Also encouraging was the quality of color to be found. The hues that have emerged are rich, deep reds, very different from the early colors last year. Overall, the canopy looks fairly healthy, aside from the surprisingly small percent stressed by the drought. It could turn out to be a very nice autumn show if the weather over the next few weeks continues to cooperate.

Thus far, the weather this week has been picture perfect, with clear skies supporting temperatures nearly reaching the freezing point before rebounding into the 70s and even 80s. Such quintessential autumn weather is critical to the emergence of quality color, as trees respond to these conditions by creating anthocyanins, or red pigments, which serve as a sunscreen of sorts as the chlorophyl breaks down. Another front looks to move through before the weekend, and then more favorable weather is generally forecast for the longer (8 to 14 day) term.

Forecast Temperature Trends For 8 to 14 days From Publication Long Range Forecast For a Cool Temperature Trend (8-14 Day Forecast)

Besides the higher elevations of the White Mountains, spotty color is emerging in far Northern New Hampshire and the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. A bit more widespread color is even being found in the Crown of Maine already. If the trend for early color continues, and there’s little reason to believe it won’t, all of these areas will likely reach peak shortly after the equinox.

Thereafter, by the turn of the calendar, we’ll likely find an early peak in the Northern Green and White Mountains, as well as the Moosehead and Rangeley Regions of Maine. Further, and it’s harder to call this far out, by Columbus Day Weekend there should be a nice range of color widespread across the Berkshires, and the majority of inland Northern New England…though a lot can happen between now an then so I’ll temper my tentative enthusiasm!

To sum things up for the week, I’ve been encouraged by early reports of bold emerging color, and it looks like the long range pattern is showing good support for a nice show. Additionally, it seems the color is coming early, perhaps by as much as a week.

If you are seeing early color at your location, be sure to report it on through our mobile foliage app and on our website.  Hopefully the news will continue to be as encouraging next week!

Jim Salge


Jim Salge


As a former meteorologist at the Mount Washington Observatory, foliage reporter Jim Salge is a keen observer of the progression of the seasons in New England. He uses his knowledge of weather, geography and climate to pinpoint the best time to visit various New England locations to find the best light, atmosphere, and most importantly, color.
Updated Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

2 Responses to Signs Point To An Early Autumn Season in New England

  1. judith fichtenbaum December 10, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

    Are there records of past peak foliage dates in Massachusetts?
    It would be interesting to see if there is a pattern of earlier or later dates.


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