Ready for another colorful New England fall foliage season? I know I am — and so is Jim Salge, Yankee’s resident foliage expert. A former meteorologist at the Mount Washington Observatory, Jim is a photographer, outdoor enthusiast, and high school science teacher who loves exploring and documenting the New England landscape year-round, but he’s busiest in fall.
Every year starting in August, Jim gets to work reporting on foliage for Yankee’s digital and social channels, offering forecast updates and insight into where to find the best color from September through October. With his first forecast for the 2021 season hot off the digital presses (see New England Fall Foliage | 2021 Forecast), I sat down with Jim to chat about the basics of foliage science, plus key predictions for this year’s forecast and tips for planning travel itineraries around peak fall color.
Fall Foliage 2021 | Q&A with Expert Jim Salge
First, let’s recap the basics. What makes for a “good” foliage year? New England rarely disappoints, because our average climate brings about great fall foliage. But if I could create the ideal setup, I’d want a reasonably long-lasting snowpack in winter, a reasonably wet spring, a normal summer without too much heat and humidity, and — this is the key — a fall with crisp, cold nights and warm, sunny days. That’s going to give you the best color.
And this year was not that! It didn’t snow in March at all, and we had a dry spring. And yet…
So how’s the fall foliage 2021 forecast looking so far?
It’s looking good! Although what we’ll be seeing in the far northern part of New England will likely be very different from what we’ll be seeing in the rest of the region. In the far north, which stayed dry for most of the summer, the foliage should be early, bright, and brief. In the rest of New England, where we saw a lot of rain in July, peak foliage should be on time, or even late, and the color will likely be less bright but longer-lasting.
How does the fall foliage 2021 forecast compare with past years?
Last year the big story was the drought, which led to an early show, but this year’s summer rains will help push it later.
Speaking of rain, we had a good amount of it this summer! Is that going to have any negative impact?
The short answer is no! The biggest consequence of the rain so far is that many red maples in swamps and wetlands have already begun to turn, but even that’s not a bad thing. These trees can hold their leaves for a long time.
What will you be watching for in the next few weeks, as we wait for the real foliage to arrive?
There are three main factors that I think could have an impact on the forecast. First, if the rain leads to an increase in fungus. Second, if La Niña brings on active tropics like we’ve already seen with Fred and Henri. And third, if we experience brief but intensely cold weather, which would move up the peak timeline.
For folks who want to target peak color, when is the best time to plan a New England foliage getaway, day trip, or road trip? Flexibility is the key word this year. While it’s impossible to accurately predict peak this early in the season, the wave of peak color moves across New England very slowly, so you shouldn’t worry about missing peak at any particular location. Especially this year, with so many factors at play, if you can be flexible about moving north and south, or up in elevation, you should be able to find some great color at most points throughout the season. What are you most looking forward to seeing and doing this year?
My kids (ages 8 and 5) are finally starting to understand that fall is a special time, so this year I’m mostly looking forward to enjoying the everyday simple traditions of autumn, with the leaves as a backdrop. I just want some apple crisp, darn it!
After Covid canceled most events last fall, is there something you’re excited to see return this year?
The Deerfield Fair (in Deerfield, New Hampshire)! Here’s my tip: For the fewest crowds, go on Thursday.
For any New England foliage newbie, what activity or event would you recommend the most?
Go to NewEngland.com and pick a foliage drive. The fall scenery and the many places to stop along the way make a foliage drive the perfect way to experience the culture and really get a feel for the traditional New England landscape. For me, there’s nothing like driving through Crawford Notch and seeing the sign for the pie lady in Bartlett.
So, speaking both for visitors and for locals looking to amp up their foliage road trips or staycations, how can we plan where and when to go this year?Right here on NewEngland.com and the Yankee social channels! In addition to the initial 2021 forecast, stay tuned for forecast updates in September and October; plus, once the color arrives, check out our weekly “Where to See Peak Foliage Now” series. Also on NewEngland.com you’ll find a peak foliage map, state foliage guides, ways to see foliage by train or boat, road trip itineraries, and where to find the best cider doughnuts, apple orchards, corn mazes, and more.