New England

2016 New England Fall Foliage Forecast

What does the previous year’s weather tell us about this year’s fall foliage? Where are the best places to see foliage in New England this year? Our 2016 peak fall foliage forecast is here to help inspire your annual autumn leaf-peeping adventures!

By Jim Salge

Aug 20 2016

The “Dog Days” have especially seemed to drag in New England this year. It’s been hot, and very humid. It is, of course, summer, and some hazy, hot and humid weather is to be expected. This year, though, only four days in the past five weeks have dipped below normal. Beaches are crowded, lakes and rivers have provided active respites, and I already fear the next electric bill. It’s weather like this that has everyone dreaming of the first big push of cool, dry air to kick-start the transition to autumn. Fall in New England is a magical time, and the whole region celebrates its arrival. In quaint villages and small towns across the region, locals are joined by visitors from all over the world at agricultural fairs, pumpkin festivals and haunted happenings, all set among the most spectacularly colored autumn leaves on planet Earth.
New England's Villages always look beautiful in autumn
New England’s Villages always look beautiful in autumn.
Photo Credit : Jim Salge
In so many ways, New England’s fall foliage is both the backdrop and top billing for the annual autumn experience. Taking in the show is casually known as “leaf peeping,” but that seemingly passive term serves as an all-encompassing catch-all for pairing activities that make up the authentic autumn experience. And the leaves rarely disappoint. The emergence of our autumn colors follows a fairly predictable pattern every year. It begins in the far north and high elevations, and slowly moves southward, downhill and towards the coast over the course of about four to six weeks. No two years are exactly the same, however, as the foliage can come early or late, seasons can be long or condensed, colors can be bright or pastel or rusty, and range from predominantly orange to overwhelmingly red. How any season plays out depends on the interplay between the forest and the recent weather and climate.
Our fall foliage prediction map highlights when to visit different regions of New England
Our fall foliage prediction map highlights when to visit different regions of New England.
Photo Credit :
Generally, we know that the brightest and most iconic years are brought about by a solid, New England winter, a seasonably mild and reasonably wet spring, a bright summer that also has adequate rainfall, and most importantly, a dominance of warm, sunny days and clear cool nights in the weeks leading up to autumn. But our forests morph into awesome hues based on a range of climate conditions, and not all the stars need to align every year for an admirable show. So how do we think this year will line up? To chronicle the factors now affecting our forest canopy, which is readying for fall, we have to look all the way back to last December, the most anomalous month ever in the region’s weather record keeping. [text_ad] In 2015, Boston’s average temperature for the entire month ended not four degrees above average, but four degrees above the previous warmest ever December. Numerous times, overnight temperatures failed to fall below normal daytime highs, and when Christmas Eve in New England was warmer than the Fourth of July last year, cherry trees and snowdrops bloomed.
Photographer Rob Wright found flowers blooming in Portsmouth, NH in late December
Photographer Rob Wright found flowers blooming in Portsmouth, NH in late December.
Photo Credit : Rob Wright
Temperatures for much of the rest of winter continued above average, and very little snow fell. Vermont had a perpetual mud season, and their maple-sugaring season ended before it would normally begin. When the calendar turned to spring, the ground was uncharacteristically bare, and trees were budding out well ahead of normal.
Comparison snow pack from the same February date in 2016 and 2015 in the Northern New Hampshire.
Comparison snow pack from the same February date in 2016 and 2015 in northern New Hampshire.
Photo Credit : Ryan Knapp
And then it got cold. And snowed. A lot. This spring, temperatures in northern New England fell below zero. Concord, New Hampshire, recorded their coldest April temperature EVER at four degrees. Multiple snow events whitened the ground and staved off what would have been an active brush fire season. The beginning of spring was, in many ways, more wintry than winter itself — a quarter to as much as half of the snow that fell this year, fell in spring. This weather can lead to a variety of autumn results. Very few maples produced seeds this year, with their flowers frozen on the branch. Fruit trees suffered a similar fate, so there is hardly a ripening peach to be found on the branch anywhere in New England. Some damage was certainly done, but the trees didn’t have to use their resources making seeds, which allowed them to bank that energy. And after the dry winter, the spring snow did provide a much-needed rush of water to the forests right before leaf out. Thereafter, late spring and summer returned to the pattern of warm and dry. Much of northern New England has seen twice the typical number of days above ninety degrees. Humidity has been consistent, even when the heat briefly abates. Much of the region has been running a precipitation deficit for more than a year. Some thunderstorms in recent weeks have provided a bit of timely rainfall, but they have been hit-or-miss throughout the region. It was just enough to perk up my lawn, which had been brown since June, but rivers are still low and soils still dry. So, how will all of this impact our autumn colors this year? The drought is clearly what everyone is talking about heading into fall. There are certainly some stressed trees already beginning to turn either orange or brown, catching eyes and sparking conversation. These trees are typically on forest edges, south facing steep slopes, and suburban landscapes, and while very noticeable, they are not necessarily indicative of what is happening in the forests. It’s also important to note that the drought isn’t uniformly severe throughout the region, and that even moderate drought isn’t bad for fall foliage. Drought does usually condense the autumn season, shortening the time between when the colors come in and when the leaves fall. It also tends to bring the foliage in a bit early. But most importantly, drought conditions can also concentrate sugars in the leaves. Thus, if other autumn conditions turn favorable in upcoming weeks, the reds this year could be brief but bright.
Strong and vibrant reds are a possibility this year if cool weather leads this fall.
Strong and vibrant reds are a possibility this year if cool weather leads this fall.
Photo Credit : Jim Salge
Our last drought year, 2012, is a fine example of this. It turned out to be a great year for foliage, but the autumn weather was also ideally suited for bright colors in a drought year. A string of cool nights and bright sunny days came in early, and much of the region turned quickly and ahead of historical averages. We can hope that the weather this autumn will be as supportive. And while the long-range forecast for this fall is generally for above-normal temperatures, autumn weather in New England is always a rollercoaster, and a week of timely cool temperatures could certainly occur.
The Climate Prediction Center's fall temperature forecast.
The Climate Prediction Center’s fall temperature forecast.
Photo Credit : NOAA/NWS
If cool temperatures fail to materialize, the best areas for foliage will align with areas with the most consistent rainfall this past year. These areas are generally in northern New England, so northern Vermont and the Maine mountains down to the Mid-Coast may be best bets this year. In this warmer scenario, in the areas of more severe drought the brightest and most consistent colors will be seen in river valleys, near lake shores and on north facing slopes. We would be remiss not to mention that in an arc extending from southeastern Vermont, through central Massachusetts, to northern Rhode Island, a significant gypsy moth outbreak has created pockets of impacted local foliage. Variation in foliage consistency will likely occur there this year, and the search for the best color may require a willingness to explore.
The most vibrant trees in drought stricken areas will be along lakes and rivers this autumn.
The most vibrant trees in drought stricken areas will be along lakes and rivers this autumn.
Photo Credit : Jim Salge
In summary, the generally warm and dry conditions over the past year have set the stage for an early autumn. If cool weather emerges in a timely fashion, we could be in for a year of brief, intense, and bright colors. If the warm weather remains persistent into autumn, the best colors will be found in areas that have received the most consistent rainfall. As we get closer to autumn and the 2016 fall foliage season, be sure to visit’s fall page for weekly updated fall foliage forecasts and reports, as well as our live peak foliage mapfoliage app for iPhone and Android, and everything you need to plan your New England foliage trip! We can’t wait to share this most beautiful season with you!