Our 2018 Fall Foliage Forecast is out—and we’ll be frank: It’s a mixed bag! While vivid leaf color is predicted for the Northeast, warm and wet summer weather conditions may subdue leaf color in other areas. See your region’s foliage forecast.
2018 Fall Foliage Forecast
The first day of fall has arrived! Of course, “fall” reminds us of what? Falling leaves! This is the start of the fall foliage season! Here are predictions for the top foliage spots in the United States.
Thanks to many deciduous trees, the Northeast has a long fall foliage season stretching from late September through late October—and from southern New York to northern New England.
Due to only a moderately rainy summer, we expect fall foliage in the Northeast to be excellent this year. (If weather is too wet or dry, it’s not as favorable for the development of colorful pigments.)
Despite some weather swings (from drought to record heat to thunderstorms), precipitation levels were fairly normal overall, which translates to a colorful, vibrant, leaf-peeping season. Moderate precipitation also means that trees avoided any major issues with gypsy moths and defoliation.
Some sources report that the vivid foliage may come a little later than usual, especially up north, due to a late start to spring and leaf-out. For perspective, as of late September:
- Upstate New York is reporting a 10% to 15% color change with dull yellow and orange leaves. The rest of the state is reporting less than a 5% color change.
- Maine, which doesn’t reach peak conditions until mid- to late October, is reporting a 30% color change with very low (less than 10%) leaf drop.
Great Smoky Mountains and Appalachians Region
The fall leaves in this region usually turn from mid-October to mid-November. Thanks to wetter, warmer weather conditions, however, the fall foliage may not be as vibrant this year. As temperatures have been running above normal, fall color will probably be somewhat delayed. However, check with local parks for the final word!
Of course, Hurricane Florence is a spoiler for the lower Appalachians and parts of the Smokies. Any huge rainstorm will knock off most of the trees’ leaves.
Across much of the Ohio Valley, wetter and warmer summer conditions may also translate to more muted leaf colors.
Upper Midwest Region
Normally, leaves in the very north of Michigan and Wisconsin change color in late September. In the middle of these states, fall foliage often peaks in mid-October.
However, the Upper Midwest region has experienced a hot, humid September with temperatures approaching the 80s. This has delayed leaf color change.
As of September 19, some early color is emerging in northern Michigan and northern Wisconsin. The first reports of emerging color (11% to 30% change) suggest that the foliage season has begun!
We also expect frequent storm systems in the Upper Midwest. This may result in early leaf drop.
Northwest and West
Typically, foliage in Washington State peaks in mid-October. Unfortunately, trees in the Northwest have suffered a dry summer. While the leaves will still turn, such dry conditions may result in a less vivid leaf turn.
If you wish to witness those gilded aspens in Colorado, the color change lasts only about a week in most places. It’s hard to predict which week, so check with local parks!
California has also suffered dry weather conditions. This will most likely lead to subdued foliage this year.
In the eastern Sierra mountains, foliage typically changes between late September and mid-October, featuring trees that include aspen, big-leaf maple, and black oak. Mammoth Mountain and Yosemite National Park also have leaf-peeping opportunities. (Note that Yosemite is still open after a terrible summer fire and welcomes fall visitors!)
Why Leaves Change Color
Surprisingly, the main reason that leaves change is not current weather conditions. This is a common misconception. Leaves change color because of the amount of daylight and photosynthesis. Weather simply influences the vividness of the color and the leaf drop.
Find out more about why fall leaves change color.
Weather determines how vivid the fall foliage will be and how long it will last.
How Does the Weather Affect Autumn Leaves?
If the weather is cold enough, it can end chlorophyll production early. This is why the high mountains in Colorado often have an early leaf season. Cold also makes colors more intense.
At the same time, warm weather can increase chlorophyll production, allowing the green to last longer. In the 120 years of U.S. weather records, temperatures have grown warmer, especially in cities, and the leaves now turn a couple of weeks later than they did a century ago. Areas east of the Great Plains and most of the Rockies have been warm.
Temperature departures (°C) over the last 30 days. Source: NOAA/CPC
Dry conditions are rough on trees and actually can end chlorophyll production early, especially for trees that turn red. They may turn red early, but the stress also makes the trees shed their leaves sooner. Dry areas have shorter color seasons.
45% of the continental US was dry in 2016. Fortunately, the severe drought in the West has been eased with precipitation in 2017 and 2018.
Are your leaves changing color yet? Go to the 2018 Foliage Map and click on your area!