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Lack of rainfall may impact fall foliage

By Allison Finch, Accuweather.com
Tourists in Forest Park catch one of the last days of the colorful trees before the leaves begin to fall in St. Louis in 2019. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI
Tourists in Forest Park catch one of the last days of the colorful trees before the leaves begin to fall in St. Louis in 2019. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

After the third-hottest summer in the United States on record, many Americans are ready for the arrival of cooler air this fall and everything else the season brings with it. Some people consider autumn to be the best time to get out of the house and enjoy all the beauty nature has to offer. The gorgeous, vibrant colors put on a display like no other before the trees shed their leaves for the long winter ahead.

As the first day of astronomical fall draws closer, families may start thinking about taking trips to admire the colorful landscapes transformed by the fall foliage. However, the lack of rainfall across certain popular viewing areas might put a damper on some plans. The fall foliage forecast, released this week by the long-range meteorologists at AccuWeather, offers insights to leaf-peepers on the ideal locations to admire the beautiful colors.

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Some of the most popular places to enjoy fall foliage across the Northeast and Appalachians are expected to be duller than in years past thanks to a lack of rainfall this summer.

According to AccuWeather's lead long-range forecaster, Paul Pastelok, many trees became stressed this summer across eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, southeastern New York and southern and central New England due to the lack of precipitation. These areas have had below-normal rainfall, which has resulted in a moderate to severe drought, especially in southern New England, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

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The region did get some rain later in the summer, but it was a little too late to help the stressed trees, according to Pastelok.

Fall foliage is expected to underperform from Boston to New York City following early leaf drops likely due to the lack of summer rainfall. As of early September, leaves have started to turn brown and crispy across parts of Connecticut and Rhode Island.

However, the foliage will not be a bust across the entire Northeast.

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The best ingredients for fall foliage are cool air and ample summer moisture and cooler, drier falls, according to Pastelok. A surplus of late-summer rainfall across northern New England has set the region up for a colorful and vibrant foliage season.

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For places like Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and northern New York, the peak of the foliage occurs in late September and the first week of October. However, Pastelok believes the pinnacle of color could be reached closer to the second or third week of October, which is similar to last year.

Thanks to the wet weather patterns during the late spring and summer months, leaf-peepers across the Upper Midwest, Great Lakes and parts of the Ohio, Tennessee and Mississippi valleys are in for a treat this year although the peak of the season could fall slightly later than normal due to wet periods in September, Pastelok said.

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Across northern Minnesota and Michigan, the arrival of strong cold fronts with gusty winds could lead to an earlier leaf drop than usual. The peak foliage is expected in late September for places like Superior National Forest, a popular spot for viewing colorful leaves in northern Minnesota.

The Tennessee and Mississippi River valleys were dominated by dry and hot weather during the first half of the summer, but by the end of July, the story had drastically changed.

Rick Harper, an extension associate professor at the University of Massachusetts, said the weather during the second half of the summer has a large impact on the fall foliage. Harper explained that trees start to prepare for the fall leaf change around Independence Day. The pattern in terms of temperature and moisture during the second half of summer determines how trees gear up for leaf senescence, which is the final stage of leaf development.

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From Missouri to Illinois to eastern Kentucky, there was no shortage of moisture during the second half of the summer. In late July and early August, there were three 1-in-1,000-year floods that occurred in those states within six days of each other.

To the east, the rainfall hasn't been as abundant across most of the Carolinas and southeastern Virginia this year. This will have a significant impact on the foliage. Pastelok expects colors to be "slightly duller" in these areas.

Any rainstorms or impacts from potential tropical systems in late September or October will also result in a quicker-than-normal knockdown of leaves for this region.

Ample moisture will benefit foliage across the Rocky Mountains, but the season might not last as long as normal.

As a result of the late-spring rain and snow and monsoonal moisture over the summer, vibrant colors will be plentiful across the eastern Rockies. September dryness will lead to an early changeover atop the mountains, but lower elevations will change mid-fall.

Even though the monsoon season has been beneficial to the Four Corners, Pastelok explained that the foliage across northern Arizona, southern Utah, southwestern Colorado and New Mexico will be near normal.

The bright yellow Aspens will look "better this year," according to Pastelok. He said that with higher temperatures and more sunshine, there might be a slight delay in peak foliage across the eastern areas. Still, overall the Aspens will change color closer to average and be more vibrant this year compared to last.

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As for the northern Rockies and interior Northwest, the season will be a complete 180 compared to last year, when widespread drought and extreme temperatures resulted in a dull foliage season. Pastelok says the ample moisture from this past winter, spring and early summer are to thank for the vibrant colors that will pop this year.

This will make places like Bighorn National Forest, which is located in northern Wyoming, a bucket-list destination for foliage enthusiasts to visit this season.

The fall foliage display is likely to be a repeat of the past two years for the West Coast, with dull colors expected across the southern third of the region.

Due to the moderate to extreme drought conditions that have persisted throughout most of the year in California, Nevada and parts of western New Mexico, most of the trees are stressed, according to Pastelok.

Even though near-normal colors are expected across the mountains and Northern California, wildfires and smoky conditions could make it difficult for people to visit and admire the colors during the fall.

However, the foliage will not be dull in the entire West Coast, which is good news for leaf-peepers who might not want to travel across the country to enjoy the beautiful fall foliage.

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Plenty of moisture from the snowy winter and wet spring and early summer will lead to vibrant colors in western Oregon and Washington this fall. Olympic National Park in Washington is just one of the places along the West Coast where foliage is expected to be on full display this fall, with colors more vibrant than in 2021.

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