Pittsburg, NH has a landscape like nowhere else in the state.Photo Credit : Jim Salge
It’s been another epic year, and we’re once again reminded of how lucky we are to get a front-seat view of New England’s gorgeous annual fall foliage show. In this update to our first Q&A with Yankee foliage expert Jim Salge (see How’s the Fall Foliage 2022 Forecast Looking?), we find out how the season is progressing — and what we can really expect for this year’s color.
With the color kickoff almost upon us, what word do you find yourself using most often to describe this year’s New England fall foliage forecast?
“But” … as an interjection.
In all of my conversations about the upcoming foliage, I’ve learned that the drought is at the forefront of people’s minds. And in much of New England, it has been dry. In some cases very dry.
But… Drought isn’t necessarily a bad thing for fall colors unless it gets severe.
But… Northern New England is not in severe drought.
But… Southern New England has had soaking rains since our first forecast.
There are certainly some stressed trees turning early or browning, especially across southern and coastal New England. But there are plenty of “buts”!
Your initial forecast predicted two “shows” this year. The first was a bright and classic display in northern New England. How’s that looking?
I initially thought we’d see a traditionally bright and beautiful year in northern New England, arriving mostly on time, and I think that forecast will hold.
And after a good summer setup, all that’s needed to kickstart the bright colors are warm sunny days and cool, crisp nights. We’ve had a couple of nights in the 40s and even 30s, and hints of the coming colors are already starting to appear. Higher elevations and the far north even have some reds and golds popping out of the sea of green.
However, it looks like average temperatures are going to stay above normal again until the last bit of September. That doesn’t mean that a few cool mornings won’t slip in, but a big shot of cold air is not on the horizon. This should hold off the peak times in the far north until later this month, even with the early color.
But it is progressing nicely and won’t be long!
The second was a drought-impacted show in southern and coastal New England. Has this forecast changed?
Fortunately, there has been some significant rainfall in southern New England since we first wrote the forecast in August. Things were starting to get pretty desperate, and without rain, drying and browning leaves would have been inevitable. Then, a soaking rainfall began on Labor Day and fell steadily, for days in some places, much to the relief of foliage fans.
But was it enough to thwart the effects of the drought? Or too little too late? It’s hard to say. Where trees were already turning brown and falling early, it may be, but it certainly didn’t hurt. The forecast in southern New England looks warm for weeks to come, so there’s still a lot to watch!
Peak color in New England typically moves in a north-south wave from late September through mid-October. Will that timeline hold true this year?
Yes, things are looking to be on schedule in the north. Look for the first peak colors to show up in the far north during the last week of September, and then drape over the mountains of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine during the first and into the second week of October.
Coastal and southern New England are going to be tougher to time this year, but we may not see that last peak colors sliding down to the Long Island Sound in Connecticut until Late October, or even early November, without the necessary cold air.
One final note… Thanks to the dry conditions, peak color likely won’t last long once it arrives, so don’t miss it!
Will we see a dominant foliage color this year?
Dry years tend to be dominated by red. While yellow and orange pigments are in the leaves all year, masked by the green chlorophyll, red is only produced in fall. The anthocyanins responsible for this are fed by the remaining sugars in the leaves. Drought can concentrate and trap the sugars, which can really pack a punch.
Where in New England will the color really wow?
I think that this is going to be a great year to travel a little further to leaf peep. The Northeast Kingdom of Vermont has so many picturesque villages, the Connecticut Lakes in Pittsburg, New Hampshire, has a landscape like no other in the state, and the Carrabassett Valley in Maine has amazing mountain views over big misty lakes on calm fall mornings. The colors should be great in all of these areas!
For road-trippers, where are some great routes to take this fall?
I highlighted some of my favorite fall routes in Yankee this fall, and those are top of mind as we head into autumn. The trek up Route 26 from Grafton Notch through Dixville Notch to Colebrook, New Hampshire, is a route many are discovering thanks to Instagram, and the colors should be great there this year.
This summer I took a trip across Vermont on Route 4 from the South Bay of Lake Champlain through Killington and Woodstock. It had a wide range of landscapes, from agricultural farmland to tall Green Mountain peaks, and then followed a beautiful river to the deep Queechee Gorge. Personally, I’d love to see that route now in fall, and there looked to be some great stops along the way!
And for hikers?
One of the most popular hikes in New England during fall is set for some major repairs this autumn, and while it is not slated to close, perhaps skipping the Franconia Ridge Loop in September and October is prudent. There are many great views just north or south of there along the Appalachian trail, including the Kinsman Ridge and Mount Garfield and over to the Twin Mountains.
Southwestern New Hampshire might also be in a sweet spot between reasonably dry and severe drought, and the colors could really pop there. The Monadnock to Sunapee Greenway offers 50 miles of trails between two iconic mountains and it’s likely a great year to try some of that trail!
And for some serious adventure, the Bigelow Range, as well as the 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine should really pop this year.
Finally, where will you be going this fall to enjoy the color show?
Everywhere I can! A big part of forecasting is checking to see how it plays out. This allows me to understand conditions better and improve my understanding every year. So I’ll be heading up to Rangeley soon, and I’ll be going to Rhode Island in a month and a half. But I really can’t wait for the fairs and festivals and food and fun during all the time in between, and sharing in those traditions with my young daughters.