Fall Foliage: What You Can Expect And When

By Terry Eliasen, Meteorologist, WBZ-TV Exec. Weather Producer

BOSTON (CBS) – Apple crisp, apple cider, football and pumpkin-flavored everything!  There’s a lot to love about fall in New England. But, perhaps our most defining and celebrated autumn treasure is fall foliage.

Believe it or not, foliage season has begun! Admittedly, it has been hard to get into the true New England fall spirit thus far given the record warmth we have had for the latter half of September. A never before seen heat wave this late in the year in parts of northern Vermont, a record 10 days over 60 degrees atop Mt. Washington, and several locations in southern New England (Boston, Worcester and Hartford) have tied or broken high temperatures records. But now as we grab our pumpkin lattes and turn the page into October, many will be planning road trips and hiking adventures to catch a glimpse the yearly burst of fall colors.

The big question – how will all this record warmth affect the colors this year?

First we need a basic understanding of why our leaves change color and what makes for a good viewing season.

fallfoliage11111 Fall Foliage: What You Can Expect And When

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

The oranges and yellows in the leaves are actually there year round, but they are largely masked by the green chlorophyll.

In the fall, the chlorophyll begins to break down and the green begins to disappear. As the greens fade, the natural oranges and yellows become visible. Those brilliant red colors come from a more complex process, something called anthocyanins. In the fall, anthocyanins are produced from sugars trapped within the leaves.

burbank Fall Foliage: What You Can Expect And When

A zipliner cruises above Bretton Woods, NH (Photo Credit: Barry Burbank)

However, for all of this to happen just right, there is one very important factor – the weather!

So what is ideal weather for the best foliage in New England?

2017 peak foliage average Fall Foliage: What You Can Expect And When

(WBZ-TV graphic)

First, you want a spring and summer with a decent amount of rainfall.  Check!

Next up, a September and October with lots of warm (not hot) sunny days and crisp, cool nights (no hard frosts though).  We can’t put a check in this column, at least not yet. The weather has been a bit too warm and dry this September for ideal conditions. All is not lost though, the outlook for the next several days is for much more classic fall-like days and nights.

We do have a few additional concerns with this year’s foliage.  First off, we are coming off one of the most significant droughts in our recent history, still hard to tell how much lingering effects that could have on our trees.

Another potential issue, you may have noticed some black “tar” spots on some of your maple leaves, this has led to some premature browning and leaf drop this year.

Finally, closer to home, many trees in Rhode Island and parts of the Blackstone Valley have been defoliated by gypsy and winter moths.

Headed north this weekend?  Well, so far reviews are mixed at best.

Largely thanks to that hot, summer-like stretch the foliage season has been temporarily put on hold. Some of the early turning leaves in far northern New England have turned brown and fallen to the ground in the heat. And the next wave of color has yet to emerge. No doubt a drive from Boston northward right now would feature much more green than would be typical this time of year.

All is not lost though!

With the heat now gone and temperatures forecast to dip into the 30’s and 40’s for the next several nights, we are expecting a rapid and brilliant burst of color in the next 3-to-7 days. This could lead to ideal leaf peeping conditions through central and northern New England during Columbus Day weekend.

2017 fall foliage Fall Foliage: What You Can Expect And When

(WBZ-TV graphic)

If you are determined to see some color this weekend, your best bet would be to head as far north as possible, including the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, the far northern Green Mountains, the highest elevations in the White Mountains and extreme northern Maine.

2017 lakes and mountains1 Fall Foliage: What You Can Expect And When

(WBZ-TV graphic)

My opinion, if you can, wait one more week. And locally, in southern New England, we are likely 2 weeks away from significant, widespread color.

And finally, while you are out and about, snap some pictures and share them with us!

You can find our team on Twitter, Facebook or email us at weather@wbztv.com.

Happy viewing!

Follow Terry on Twitter @TerryWBZ

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