Fall foliage in New England impacted by ‘extreme drought,’ recent storms


The vibrant colors of fall have arrived in parts of the Northeast but weather conditions mean the leaves are changing sooner with a shorter window to be viewed.

The U.S Drought Monitor says much of the region is experiencing drought conditions, with “extreme drought” reported in parts of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. 

Temperatures have also been above average, which impacts how brilliant leaves look.

2020 US FALL FOLIAGE PREDICTION MAP SHOWS WHERE, WHEN LEAVES ARE EXPECTED TO CHANGE

According to the U.S. Forest Service, temperature and moisture are the main influences in the amount and brilliance of fall colors that develop in the fall. 

The colorful foliage of hardwood tress is mixed in with evergreens near the shore of Lower Ausable Lake in the Adirondacks, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, near Keene Valley, N.Y.

The colorful foliage of hardwood tress is mixed in with evergreens near the shore of Lower Ausable Lake in the Adirondacks, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, near Keene Valley, N.Y.
(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

“A succession of warm, sunny days and cool, crisp but not freezing nights seems to bring about the most spectacular color displays,” the USFS notes. 

Hardwood trees show their fall colors on mountainsides flanking Lower Ausable Lake in the Adirondacks, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, near Keene Valley, N.Y.

Hardwood trees show their fall colors on mountainsides flanking Lower Ausable Lake in the Adirondacks, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, near Keene Valley, N.Y.
(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

A warm spell of temperatures in the fall will end up lowering the intensity of autumn colors.

Waterfront buildings at The Ausable Club are surrounded by a forest of changing colors as viewed from Gothics Mountain, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in New York's Adirondack Park. 

Waterfront buildings at The Ausable Club are surrounded by a forest of changing colors as viewed from Gothics Mountain, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in New York’s Adirondack Park. 
(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

In terms of moisture, late spring or severe summer drought can delay the onset of fall colors by a few weeks. 

“A warm wet spring, favorable summer weather, and warm sunny fall days with cool nights should produce the most brilliant autumn colors,” the agency notes.

FALL COLORS IN MIDWEST SPOTTED FROM SPACE AS AUTUMN ARRIVES

But in a year that hasn’t been anything but normal, much of New England has not had favorable conditions. 

Barely any rain was reported in September in much of the region, which led to fall colors arriving one to two weeks earlier than normal, WBZ-TV reported.

Visitors to the summit of Mount Equinox in Manchester, Vt., look at foliage to the north Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, as many motorists traveled to the peak to view the autumn colors on the Columbus Day holiday weekend.

Visitors to the summit of Mount Equinox in Manchester, Vt., look at foliage to the north Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, as many motorists traveled to the peak to view the autumn colors on the Columbus Day holiday weekend.
(Gillian Jones/The Berkshire Eagle via AP)

Recent rains from the remnants in Hurricane Delta also threaten to blow away what’s left on any colorful trees.

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“The color is just going really, really quick,” foliage expert Jim Salge told Boston Magazine. “Because of the drought, the trees are stressed. And they aren’t able to hold on to the leaves, because they’re generally so dry. The color has been very bright, but very brief.”

While New England has had a rough go this season, other places around the country are in better shape.

AccuWeather noted in its 2020 fall outlook that some of the best colors are expected across the southern Appalachians.

This region, which includes Smokey Mountain National Park, typically sees peak foliage around the final week of October.

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