The big weekend is upon us, and the upcoming weather forecast couldn’t look better. Finally, after weeks of dreary weather and near incessant rainfall, the skies are set to clear as a big, broad high pressure area moves in. The whole of New England, which has been cooped up waiting out this storm is ready to come out to celebrate autumn, and the festivals and fairs and farms are eagerly awaiting their emergence. Already I can envision the clear skies, the low humidity, the crisp mornings and the warm days. I can’t wait for the hikes and the drives and the apple cider and pumpkins…I hope to do it all this weekend, as it should be a fantastic weekend for everything autumn.
It’s perhaps hard to separate the culture of the harvest season in New England from the backdrop of the colorful trees. When we imagine any autumn activity, it’s just assumed that there will be peak foliage in brilliant color at every turn. In some regions this weekend, the color will certainly meet expectations. Unfortunately though, in other areas, peepers will have to face a landscape that doesn’t necessarily match what we had hoped for, or expected. For weeks, I’ve been mentioning in this blog that the weather has not been ideal for bringing out the fall colors, but the early indications and progressions were still strong. Sadly, as the rain and warm temperatures kept coming, I’ve had to remove the qualifier from the forecast, as some traditionally strong foliage areas are going to see color that is either late or muted.
I spent a good bit of time this weekend touring the foliage in the White Mountains working on my autumn portfolio, and trying to make sense of any pattern to the peak color. What I can summarize is that you are likely to encounter three completely different sets of foliage conditions this weekend in Northern and Western New England.
In areas that started turning early, there is great color, with strong reds mixed with greens. These tend to be in higher valleys, on western slopes, and areas that received less recent rainfall. On my drive, I found great color in and north of Franconia Notch, along the western Kancamaugus Highway, and around Bretton Woods. I’ve heard similar reports from the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, and the north slopes of the mountains of Maine. There is some wind in the forecast this week, so it’s likely that there will be a bit of leaf drop in these areas, but there should still be plenty of color there this weekend.
In complete opposition to this gorgeous color, in the region extending from coastal plain through the eastern mountains, the foliage continues to be held up thanks to this stretch of warm, wet weather. Driving through the town or Conway, I saw little color difference from what one might expect the second week of September. I’ve also heard similar reports coming from many towns in southern Vermont as well as the Berkshires. I am hopeful that the color will still emerge in these areas after the upcoming cooler nights, as there is frost in the forecast before the weekend. But the foliage is easily a week behind already, and simply will not become caught up before the weekend. There will be color, just not peak color.
The third zone unfortunately holds some troublesome sights for foliage lovers in New England, as there are also regions that are stuck in an uninspiring limbo. In the zone between peak and green, the foliage has seemingly given up on waiting out the weather. The color came on too slow, and with no support it is now muted or golden brown instead of rich red and orange. I saw this first hand in Crawford Notch, NH, and heard about it in both valleys of Vermont and all the way over by Baxter in Maine. There are a few reasons for this, but one of the most likely is the noted increase in a tree fungus called anthracnose, which is attacking the hardwood forests with impressive fervor this year. The fungus is present every year, but it spread well in the wet spring, and bloomed severely in the atypical weather this autumn. I am hoping that these areas are not harbingers for the rest of the season as the foliage finally spreads from the mountains, but truly, only time will tell.
The good news for the weekend, is that the good color, poor color, and low color are all interspersed in close geographic proximity. If the color is poor where you are, try heading to a more westerly, or north facing valley, or away from the coastal plain. I was shocked at times how a drive of only a few miles took me through all three zones. And where the foliage was good, there was truly plenty of beauty to be found.
With the foliage so variable and so temperamental, this weekend, more so than ever, we are looking forward to your foliage reports at Yankeefoliage.com. Be sure to check in with us and submit your reports to our foliage map. Our Facebook Page has also been abuzz, and foliage fans are awaiting your pictures and tales from your travels. You can also quickly share your photos and reports from the road through our mobile foliage app. Foliage doesn’t live on the digital realm though, and you connection with other leaf peepers shouldn’t merely exist there either. Some of the best information I received this weekend was gained through talking with other hikers, photographers and enthusiasts while out and about. There’s always a great community around fall foliage in New England, and I hope you take full advantage of it.
In summary, the foliage is generally a bit late and in some areas a bit muted, but there is plenty of color to be found. Areas that are further west, and further north than your typical foliage spots on Columbus Day weekend will offer better color. But the weather will be fantastic for autumn activities this weekend, and with a little extra work, and perhaps slightly tempered expectations, I suspect that the overall experience will be as fine as ever.
Enjoy autumn for everything it is! I know I can’t wait either!