Thoughts, ideas and memories of photography, cooking & the outdoors (not in that order!)

Fall Foliage Forecasting

My favorite time of year is the fall… not only due to the great weather, Halloween and Thanksgiving but of course the colorful foliage as well. There’s a number of great locations across the country (and world for that matter) to take in the beauty of the changing colors. Over the past 2-3 years I’ve become more familiar with the areas locally to me in the Eastern Sierras. I’m hoping to get a glimpse of some of the awesomeness of early fall in Colorado this year. But in my opinion and maybe because I’m slightly biased, I don’t think anywhere beats New England. It may not have the backdrop of 10k’+ snow-capped mountains, which can certainly be stunning and worthy of it’s own pursuit. However, what it lacks up for in high-elevation jagged mountain peaks it makes up for with a stunning array of color, during a good foliage year at least.

I’ve been photographing fall foliage for several years now and very excited to have my first trip to New England during the fall since I moved to the west coast over 4 years ago. Even more exciting is that the potential for a good display is working in my favor, from the reports I’ve read. No drought conditions, good supply of moisture earlier during the summer. If we generally have sunny days, crisp nights and avoid any big wet & windy tropical systems tracking up the coast it could work out very well. I’m tracking the weather rather carefully, of course.

I’m also gathering information from a number of sources and wanted to share some of my input on what I’ve read. Some of them are quite useful, some I think a bit less so.

My personal favorite has to be Jeff “Foliage” Folger’s excellent New England Foliage blog. He provides a litany of useful information on all things fall including foliage forecasts/reports, locations, scenic drives, and more. I only found it while I was living out west, so haven’t gotten a chance to “use” any of the forecasts & reports yet but his dedication and great data resource has made my planning job much easier.

Another favorite that I’ve been using for over 10 years is the forecasts at The Foliage Network  From what I’ve seen their data is pretty accurate, and detailed.  It has reports only (no forecasts), but they cover a few geographical regions and provide useful maps.

A third resource is the interactive and impressive national foliage prediction map by Smoky Mountains. I was quite excited when I first saw this during the planning stages of a trip. But once I looked a bit further, the forecast seemed to be jumping the gun a bit with early peak dates based upon the two years I’ve seen so far. This year they are predicting conditions that I know are unlikely in the northeast (eg: the whole of Vermont and New Hampshire are not past-peak by the first of October). I wish I could pull up an archived page with last year’s data on it for comparison to my Eastern Sierra trip as a second data point.

I also stumbled across the reports at New England Today, and at an initial glance they seemed quite detailed. However, once you look a bit further the data was noisy… at the time I first checked, it listed a few regions marked as peak that were surrounded my regions still green, which doesn’t make sense. Since then the data seems to have been validated or cleaned up, which is great to see. This does bring up another point though…

What is peak? How do you define peak? Is it when one tree on a hillside as at “ideal” color? Or is it a majority? 20%? 30%? You know not all of the trees in an area change at identical times, local temperature variations, species, health all play into that. Furthermore, who’s to say the cutoff’s between the various foliage progression labels such as partial and near peak are similar.

I find that talking a quick search on Flickr and limiting results to the past week or so can provide some very useful data as well with a bit of luck.

 

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