As we move into autumn, the hot topic of the season shifts to fall foliage and when we will start to see vibrant colors in the trees. Some areas across New England have already begun to see the leaves change color, but locations across the I-95 corridor still have a few weeks before reaching their peak in fall foliage. While there are typical factors that allow for the leaves to change colors, i.e., the shorter daylight hours and longer nights in fall, the weather also plays a large role in fall foliage. The best-case scenario for the most vibrant leaves is a wet growing season (April – June) followed by an “average” summer, meaning that rainfall and temperatures for the season are near climatological normal. These conditions also allow leaves to cling on as long as possible, which is what we want for those colors to pop in the fall. So, what does the weather this summer say about our peak foliage this season? Let’s look at the details.
Precipitation departure during the beginning of the growing season. Greens are above normal, oranges/reds below normal. Courtesy of the Northeast Regional Climate Center (NRCC)
The growing season featured a tale of opposites this year. Abundant rainfall fell across a large chunk of the region, though areas along the I-95 corridor in New England saw the beginnings of drought (see above). Temperatures trended close to normal or just a touch above through the growing season as well. Moving into the summer, severe drought plagued much of the Northeast as rainfall totals ran well below normal (see below) and temperatures 1 - 3 degrees above normal on average.
Precipiation departure during the summer, showing a large deficit region-wide. Courtesy of the Northeast Regional Climate Center (NRCC)
Moving into how September has trended thus far, much of the Northeast has seen beneficial rainfall to aid in the drought, but temperatures have continued to trend above average for a good portion of the month. For vibrant fall foliage, sunny autumn days and cooler nights are the goal. Much of the region continues to see drought of some variety as of the September 22nd U.S. Drought Monitor.
The U.S. Drought Monitor is jointly produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Map courtesy of NDMC.
So... where does this leave us? The consequences of the summer drought have already begun to appear across the region, as foliage already shows the sign of change. However, some leaves are dropping very quickly, which is likely the result of the drought stress over the summer months. This may be more prolific in New England. Additionally, the dry conditions of the summer may also lead to a less vibrant peak in foliage, dull color will be most likely in New England where trees were under the most stress. However, Places in PA, NJ, and into the Mid-Atlantic may not fair too badly and recent rainfall has helped quench the drought. Plus, cooler weather is arriving, also aiding the process. If we had to give a rating out of 10 for color in 2022, figure on New England being a 4/10 for color and NJ, PA into the Mid-Atlantic a 6/10.
Nonetheless, getting out and experiencing the colors is always a beautiful experience so here is a map of when we can typically see peak fall foliage, just keep in mind that peak foliage may be sooner than normal this season!