Looking like a washout? Foliage forecasters say weather may take a little bright out of fall display

  • Bands of color paint a Deerfield hillside on Oct. 26, 2022. STAFF FILE PHOTO/Paul Franz

  • Fall colors are on display along the Canalside Bike Path through Unity Park in Turners Falls, Oct. 15, 2020. RECORDER FILE Photo/Paul Franz

  • A couple takes in the view from the ocean lookout ledges of Mount Megunticook at Camden Hills State Park in Camden, Maine, Oct. 12, 2009. AP FILE PHOTO/Robert F. Bukaty

  • An array of fall foliage colors on display in Northfield, Oct. 23, 2018. RECORDER FILE Photo/Dan Little

  • Visitors pass by vibrant foliage Oct. 14, 2018, during the 13th annual Westhampton Fall Festival. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/Sarah Crosby

  • People take in the fall foliage from Owls Head Mountain in Vermont’s Groton State Forest, with Kettle Pond in the distance, in this undated photo provided by the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing. VIA AP/FILE PHOTO

  • Fall foliage is shown Oct. 15, 2016, on South East Street in Amherst. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

  • Fall foliage and Mary Lyon Hall at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley are highlighted against a gray-blue sky in 2013. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A church in Shelburne Falls stands out against the fall foliage as seen from across the Deerfield River near Route 2, Oct. 4, 2010. RECORDER FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Peak fall foliage colors are contrasted by snow-flecked peaks in the White Mountain National Forest in Twin Mountain, N.H., Oct. 14, 2009. AP FILE PHOTO/Jim Cole

  • Fall foliage colors a line of mountains in Chatham, N. H., as unsettled weather begins to clear, Oct. 4, 2016. AP FILE PHOTO/Robert F. Bukaty

  • The former New Salem Academy in New Salem Center is wrapped in fall colors in October 2015. RECORDER FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Flowers, fall foliage and 6,288-foot Mount Washington serve as a backdrop for a family picture at Crawford Notch State Park in New Hampshire, Oct. 6, 2006. AP FILE PHOTO/Robert F. Buakty

Staff Writer
Published: 9/16/2023 4:00:11 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Fall is on its way, and with it predictions for the fall foliage. Will 2023 produce vibrant displays of fiery red and blazing orange, or will July’s heavy rain dampen even the colors?

Yankee Magazine forecaster Jim Salge predicts that this year’s wet summer will definitely have an effect on the fall color, but he notes several other factors: last year’s summer drought, the Arctic freeze of Feb. 4, the damaging frost of May 18, and the flooding rains of July 10.

February’s cold snap took a toll on spongy moth caterpillars (formerly known as gypsy moths), Salge writes, but leaf fungi such as anthracnose could still mute the fall display.

Regardless, Salge notes, “the best fall color will occur only if the weather cooperates. Bright hues are brought out by warm, sunny days and crisp, cool nights.”

Rick Harper, a professor of urban forestry at the University of Massachusetts Extension, said everything can change with a few cold nights.

“I don’t put a lot of stock in the forecasts,” he said.

Besides, he noted, even a less-than-stellar fall in New England is still way better than what most people experience.

With about a month to go until peak color, a few cool nights will sharpen the colors, he said.

“We’ll have a beautiful fall, because we always do,” he said.

Temperatures aren’t expected to cool significantly over the next two weeks, at least, with the National Weather Service predicting warmer than normal temperatures and above-average rainfall.

This is not surprising with the current shift into an El Niño Pacific warming pattern, according to Salge, when New England tends to see warmer-than-average temperatures that last well into fall, fewer strong cold fronts, and above-normal precipitation.

Along with by the wet summer, Salge suggests this means the colors will be more pastel than flaming this fall.

“The excess water also dilutes the sugars in the leaves as the trees prepare for winter. This might lead to fewer red colors this year, which could be compounded by continuing warm and wet weather,” Salge explained.

He’s expecting the colors to peak and hold onto their color a bit later than normal. His picks for best fall colors are northern Maine, the Acadia region and southern New England.

Foliage blogger Jeff Folger agrees that the heavy rains have put stress on the trees, and he’s hoping that the main result will be foliage that’s subdued but still colorful. He also likes the chances for a good display in southern New England, with colors peaking in mid- to late October, but notes that much depends on the weather conditions over the next few weeks.

Among the Old Farmer’s Almanac’s recommended leaf-peeping destinations are Acadia National Park, the Adirondacks and the Catskills in New York, New Hampshire’s Kancamagus Highway, the Connecticut River Valley in central Connecticut, Vermont’s Green Mountain Byway and the Berkshires.

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