The wave of bright but brief fall color will be moving south over the next couple of weeks across southern New England.
Photo Credit : Jim Salge
Amid all the uncertainty of 2020, it’s been a relief to know there’s one thing we can still count on: the beauty of New England’s fall foliage show. In our latest Q&A with Yankee foliage expert Jim Salge, we find out how the season is progressing (hint: blink and you may have already missed it!), what’s in store for the upcoming long weekend, and predictions for the rest of October.
2020 New England Fall Foliage Update | Q&A with Expert Jim Salge
First things first: Are we experiencing the early peak wave you initially predicted for this year? It feels as if the colors exploded overnight here in southern New Hampshire and are already fading!
Yes! I think that this was one of the most dramatic changes many New Englanders have ever seen. But while the brightest colors in northern New England have faded, there is still plenty of color to be found.
In our previous update, you said that the arrival of cooler air meant that “optimism is high for brilliant foliage” in northern New England. So how did things play out? And where does northern New England stand heading into the long weekend?
The foliage in northern New England was indeed very early and very bright, with brilliant reds covering the mountains in late September. But because of the drought, those leaves were pretty fragile, and when the windstorm came through last week, the brightest colors were the first to fall.
There is still a lot of color across areas in northern New England where people traditionally travel for the big holiday weekend, but it’s more the orange and rust of post-peak, than the yellow and red of peak. Just south of those spots will be better. We still expect bright colors across the valleys of southern Vermont and the lakes regions of New Hampshire and Maine, as well as parts of the Maine coast. Also, the oaks and beeches have yet to turn, so places closer to the coast will likely see a second peak too.
For all of New England but particularly for the southern portion, you were concerned about tropical storms thwarting color or bringing down the leaves. How’s it looking on that front?
We have definitely been lucky and dodged a few bullets with passing storms and storm remnants. And fortunately the recent windstorm that impacted northern New England had much less effect farther south.
Is New England still in the midst of a drought, and how does that impact how much color we could see?
Yes, and it is getting worse. We did see some rain in the past week but not nearly enough to make up for months of predominantly dry weather. Boston saw less than an inch of rainfall in all of September, and more than half of that fell in the last few days.
But the impact on color isn’t always bad. Drought paired with cool conditions will kick-start bright, brief color. This is why northern New England popped so quickly and dramatically this year, and we are hopeful that similar seasonably cool weather will do the same in southern New England. Otherwise, there will be a bit more browning of the leaves before they fall.
So, what are the predictions for southern New England?
In southern New England, we are seeing extremely varied conditions, but overall we’re expecting another wave of early, brief, and bright color, with much of that emerging in the next week, especially away from the coast.
The Berkshires and northern Massachusetts are seeing mostly good color now, which should make for a bright long weekend of leaf peeping coming up.
Farther south in Connecticut and Rhode Island, and especially toward the coast, the trees are still largely green. This isn’t unusual for the first week of October, but we continue to expect that these places will peak a week or two ahead of schedule this year, which brings the calendar back from peak conditions in late October and early November, to peak taking place completely in the month of October.
Have there been any surprises this year?
The fact that much of northern New England reached peak at the same time, and how quickly the leaves turned, was really shocking. When the capital of New Hampshire, the White Mountains, and the Great North Woods all see peak color at the same time, it’s extremely unusual.
And it was equally shocking to see how fast the brightest colors came down. In Pittsburg, a town at New Hampshire’s northern tip, it went from mostly green to mostly sticks in a week. Usually, you have a few weeks to enjoy the transition of color.
Another surprising thing is to hit peak and then go back to green. The early color of birches and red maples has fallen, but late maples, oaks, and beeches have yet to turn. It’s really odd.
Whether and how this pattern continues into southern New England will be very interesting to see, for the science and understanding of how foliage progresses across the region.
But overall, it was a briefly beautiful year. Stunning, and too fast.
For the remainder of the season, keep following our “Where to See Fall Foliage This Weekend” post (updated every Thursday!) for the latest from Jim Salge, plus one great travel pick for the weekend.