New England

New England Fall Foliage Forecast Updated

An updated New England fall foliage forecast for the 2016 season.

By Jim Salge

Sep 16 2016


A few red maple leaves are beginning to turn, especially in drought stressed trees.

Photo Credit : Jim Salge

A sharp cold front moved through New England last weekend, finally displacing a stagnant streak of warm, generally uncomfortable muggy air. We had been waiting for a consistent push of autumn weather to kick-start the foliage, and it looks like it has finally arrived. Temperatures in Northern New England fell into the thirties, and dipped below freezing on the highest peaks for the first time since spring. Orchards are open, asters and goldenrod are blooming, and hints of color are spotting the canopy. It won’t be long now.

Goldenrod is one of the last flowering wildflowers in New England.
Goldenrod is one of the last flowering wildflowers in New England.
Photo Credit : Jennifer Hannux

A month ago, we put out our first 2016 fall foliage forecast, highlighting in detail the weather during the foliage growing season. We also looked at long range climate forecasts and trends for the best guess on how the weather might impact autumn this year. The challenge, though, is that the long-term setup is only one factor influencing the type of autumn colors that we see. The weather in the weeks leading up to the big show matters quite a bit, too.  

From here on out, we know the brightest and most iconic colors will be brought out by a pattern of warm, sunny days and clear, cool nights in the weeks leading up to autumn. Intermittent rainfall is good, but too much rain and cloud cover can cause colors to be more pastel and muted instead of bright and bold. Either way, it is a beautiful show, and region-wide, the colors rarely disappoint.  

What to bring leaf peeping
Roads lined with perfect autumn color await leaf peepers this fall.
Photo Credit : Jim Salge

Now,  as the transition to fall truly begins, it’s time to provide a comprehensive update to our original forecast, as well as some insight into what is already occurring as we also transition, from a forecast blog to weekly observations and reports!  

From the beginning, the biggest player in the foliage this year has been the drought, and since the original forecast, there has been little to abate its effects. Drought traditionally causes the foliage to come in earlier, and compresses the season a bit, and we have already begin to notice signs of this. Though most of the landscape is still green, there are definite pops of color all around New England. 

Across much of New England the foliage looks green and healthy still. Taken in Lyme, NH this week.
Across much of New England, the foliage still looks green and healthy. Taken in Lyme, NH this week.
Photo Credit : Phillip Forsyth

Our network of foliage reporters have been noticing that some birches, especially young trees, are turning yellow in the forest understory and atop roadside ledges. Isolated maples on the edges of fields and highways are also turning, dotting the landscape with hints of orange and red. Some people have posted about browning trees on our social media sites, but thus far, this seems to be outside of the norm, mostly affecting young, newly-planted trees or those in now-parched wetlands.


The impact of the drought will be significant this year, but much of what I’ve been reading and researching suggests that though we need the rain for other reasons, a good soaking rainfall will likely have little minimal impact on the foliage season from here on out. The process that changes the leaves is already beginning, and the other factors mentioned above will have a much greater effect now.

Splashes of autumn color can be seen in the canopy around New England. Taken in Pinkham Notch this past week.
Splashes of autumn color can be seen in the canopy around New England. Taken in Pinkham Notch this past week.
Photo Credit :">Ernie Mills

We’ve also noticed that there are now more prevalent patches of color in the parts of the region most impacted by the drought. The drought is not uniformly severe across New England, and in the areas where the foliage typically emerges the earliest, in far northern New England, the foliage may not be as early as historical averages indicate. We still expect peak ion the northern areas to start about two weeks now, during the last week of September, as long as we continue to get a fair number of cool nights between now and then.  

Historically, another effect of drought on foliage can be a strong, intense, yet brief show of red foliage. While orange and yellow pigments are in the leaves all summer, red pigments are produced in the leaves each autumn. This is usually a response of the drying leaves to bright sunlight, and with less water in the trees to move the sugars out, the reds produced can be strong in dry years. We are still very much in a wait-and-see pattern for that, and we’ll know more very soon!  

A few red maple leaves are beginning to turn, especially in drought stressed trees.
A few red maple leaves are beginning to turn, especially in drought-stressed trees.
Photo Credit : Jim Salge

In summary, given that the initial onset of color has begun in a lot of areas, we are increasingly confident of an early autumn, especially in the areas most impacted by drought. We are also confident that the duration of color will be shortened across the region. Historically, color can be intense in that compressed window during drought years, but the weather from here on out will determine that intensity. We will need cool nights, warm days, and an abundance of sunshine for the brightest colors to form. And lastly, although there certainly will be some localized premature browning in the most stressed trees (as there is every drought year), overall, New England foliage rarely disappoints region-wide! The most consistent color should develop in the areas least affected by drought.

As the fall foliage continues to progress through the season, we at have a variety of tools to help you plan the best leaf peeping adventure. Most important from here on out is our Foliage App and interactive foliage map. You can also help others in their planning, by reporting the conditions you see around New England.

It won’t be long now … anticipation is building! We’ll see you soon!