It's fall y'all, time to leaf peep: Your foliage forecast for 2021, according to an expert

·5 min read
It's fall y'all, time to leaf peep: Your foliage forecast for 2021, according to an expert

It is officially autumn 2021, and that means it's time to talk about fall foliage. This year, you can expect a warm array of colors offering travelers the opportunity to pack up and head to areas cast in beautiful hues as the weather chills.

"The classic foliage drive is really the most time-honored tradition," Jim Salge, Yankee Magazine's foliage expert and a former meteorologist at Mount Washington in New Hampshire, told USA TODAY. "Getting cider donuts and enjoying a country road."

But how foliage turns varies each year depending on weather, meaning the tradition of leaf-peeping is subject to a changing timeline and some peepers may want to explore different regions.

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"Normal weather brings about the best foliage because the trees are used to the prevailing climate that they grow in. Areas that experienced close to normal weather will experience the best color," Salge said.

As a result, Salge believes Eastern Colorado and the Midwest will have the best shows in the country given those regions experienced the "closest to normal weather."

Here's a breakdown of how the foliage will change across the U.S.:

The northeast will see a 'punch of vibrant but short-lived color'

Salge said that even if there are warm and wet periods this fall, far northern regions are still showing drought. Strong cold fronts and cool breaks in the weather will likely cause dry forests to transform into brighter hues earlier than normal.

"This means that a bright punch of vibrant but short-lived color should arrive across New England’s northern tier in late September," Salge said.

When Hurricane Henri came ashore in New England, the northern part remained untouched but the southern part of the region was plagued by tropical weather.

"For central and southern New England, which are well-watered, the setup for autumn remains encouraging, despite the pockets of insect damage and a lingering potential for rainfall-fed fungus growth."

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Typically, fall tones tend to last longer after a wet summer. "Combining that with a forecast for continued warmth, we expect a season in central and southern New England that is either on time or later than historical averages," Salge said.

Normal peak extends over six weeks, typically a large majority of the region will reach the height of fall color range around the weekend of October 10th. The south coast of Connecticut and Rhode Island won't peak until later, near the end of the month or in early November, a little later than average.

Salge expects the peak to come from the north, sliding south and down to the coast through October in New England.

Outside of the northeast, Salge has a range of predictions.

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Mid-Atlantic and New York will be 'abruptly bright'

In the Mid-Atlantic and New York, he said a hot and dry summer and an expectation for higher temperatures into fall, will lead to a later change in color that is normal, brief and "abruptly bright." In New York State, the forecast varies a bit. Salge said it should be bright, timely and beautiful especially in the Catskills.

Southeast to have a brief foliage show

In the Southeast, drought is "a concern" for the southern part of the Appalachians which is typically known for its foliage, according to Salge. With tropical downpours having occurred and autumn rain expected to be more than normal with higher temperatures, the peak time for foliage is trending toward normal, usually falling between October and November and depending on terrain and elevation, but the show will be brief.

Midwest to have 'banner' foliage year

In the upper part of the Midwest, near The Great Lakes, the forests are in good health after a spring and summer with little drought. "We expect a banner foliage year in states like Wisconsin and Michigan, with the western drought being more of a concern in Minnesota," Salge said.

Eastern Colorado is the 'pick of the region' for leaf-peeping

And in the Mountain West, colors are expected to turn early for a short period. Eastern Colorado will be "the pick of the region" for leaf color change.

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Pacific Northwest is hard to predict

Meanwhile, in the Pacific Northwest, Salge said it has been hard to predict what the "autumn show" will be like after experiencing "a summer that’s so far outside its climate averages."

Planning your foliage festivities

NewEngland.com, the webspace for Yankee Magazine, and SmokyMountains.com both have fall foliage maps and resources at the ready for travelers hoping to start planning.

Individual states have foliage forecast tools, too. Vermontvacation.com offers a weekly email with forecast updates for subscribers and MaineFoliage.com offers a newsletter.

But it goes beyond the colors of the season.

"Foliage in New England is beautiful every year, but it’s the traditions and experiences of fall that really make the season special," Salge said. "We can't wait for fairs and apple picking and all things pumpkin."

Hiking, bike riding and paddling are popular foliage viewing activities, too, that have only become more popular with the pandemic.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fall leaves forecast: It's time to start leaf peeping

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