Thursday, September 06, 2012
Your Foliage 2012 Guide & Planner
For folks planning on heading north for some fine fall foliage viewing, the question is always about timing. While divining the moment of the brightest, most astonishing colors is impossible, there are some things to keep in mind when planning your trip, and some resources to help you adjust your expectations.
Yankee Magazine has a neat tool called the Fall Foliage Predictor. It’s a motion colored map that allows you to scroll over a calendar and see exactly when the peak colors will be in certain areas this fall. I don’t know what the mechanisms behind this map are, but given my experience in the north country, it seems about right. The accuracy of the map, in other words, may be less attributable to programmers and algorithms than people with experience, and Yankee has been around long enough to know when certain areas will experience their peak foliage colors.
According to Yankee, the peak colors for northern Vermont will be from about September 23 (my birthday, in case you have a gifting urge to fulfill) to about October 5, with the highest intensity occurring about the weekend of September 29-30. This seems a bit early to me. In the past, we’ve experienced the peak of foliage closer to October 4-5. But perhaps the folks at Yankee know something I don’t know. Perhaps they’ve calculated that long, warm, sunny, dry summer will advance the season a bit. Perhaps it doesn’t even matter.
More hard data can be found in Autumn 2012 edition of Northern Woodlands magazine. In an article called “Where’s the Peak?”, John Burk recaps the dull foliage season we experienced last year, and the reasons behind it: a long, cold, wet spring; an attack on sugar maples by anthracnose, a fungal disease; a high seed year, which stressed many maples by diverting energy toward seed development; something called septoria leafspot, which sounds ghastly, and which caused tens of thousands of acres of birch trees to defoliate; and the remnants of Hurricane Irene, which brought torrential rains and flooding to Vermont. Also affecting the season last year were some long term trends, such as warmer autumns and later first-frost dates. For the past half century, the first frost has occurred later and later, especially in the last 20 years. I wonder what could cause that?
Burk observes, however, that this year has been different. The long, warm summer should preclude a repeat performance of fungal diseases. Then again, warmer weather can cause earlier leaf drops. And the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center is calling for above-average temps for the remainder of this autumn.
So what does that mean for you, the traveler coming to Stowe in search of legendary color? Local knowledge is king. I’ll be out daily checking the area for the best colors, but as for timing and planning, I can tell you that at any time between the last weekend in September and the first weekend in October, there will ridges and valleys ablaze with astonishing fall foliage. All you need to do is show up.