Looking like a washout? Foliage forecasters say weather may take a little bright out of fall display

By JAMES PENTLAND

Staff Writer

Published: 09-16-2023 4:00 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Fall is on its way, and with it predictions for the fall foliage. Will 2023 produce vibrant displays of fiery red and blazing orange, or will July’s heavy rain dampen even the colors?

Yankee Magazine forecaster Jim Salge predicts that this year’s wet summer will definitely have an effect on the fall color, but he notes several other factors: last year’s summer drought, the Arctic freeze of Feb. 4, the damaging frost of May 18, and the flooding rains of July 10.

February’s cold snap took a toll on spongy moth caterpillars (formerly known as gypsy moths), Salge writes, but leaf fungi such as anthracnose could still mute the fall display.

Regardless, Salge notes, “the best fall color will occur only if the weather cooperates. Bright hues are brought out by warm, sunny days and crisp, cool nights.”

Rick Harper, a professor of urban forestry at the University of Massachusetts Extension, said everything can change with a few cold nights.

“I don’t put a lot of stock in the forecasts,” he said.

Besides, he noted, even a less-than-stellar fall in New England is still way better than what most people experience.

With about a month to go until peak color, a few cool nights will sharpen the colors, he said.

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“We’ll have a beautiful fall, because we always do,” he said.

Temperatures aren’t expected to cool significantly over the next two weeks, at least, with the National Weather Service predicting warmer than normal temperatures and above-average rainfall.

This is not surprising with the current shift into an El Niño Pacific warming pattern, according to Salge, when New England tends to see warmer-than-average temperatures that last well into fall, fewer strong cold fronts, and above-normal precipitation.

Along with by the wet summer, Salge suggests this means the colors will be more pastel than flaming this fall.

“The excess water also dilutes the sugars in the leaves as the trees prepare for winter. This might lead to fewer red colors this year, which could be compounded by continuing warm and wet weather,” Salge explained.

He’s expecting the colors to peak and hold onto their color a bit later than normal. His picks for best fall colors are northern Maine, the Acadia region and southern New England.

Foliage blogger Jeff Folger agrees that the heavy rains have put stress on the trees, and he’s hoping that the main result will be foliage that’s subdued but still colorful. He also likes the chances for a good display in southern New England, with colors peaking in mid- to late October, but notes that much depends on the weather conditions over the next few weeks.

Among the Old Farmer’s Almanac’s recommended leaf-peeping destinations are Acadia National Park, the Adirondacks and the Catskills in New York, New Hampshire’s Kancamagus Highway, the Connecticut River Valley in central Connecticut, Vermont’s Green Mountain Byway and the Berkshires.

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