One of the most breathtaking natural wonders we can experience is the annual fall foliage display that millions of trees across America treat us to. Unfortunately, experts predict that peak leaf-peeping season will be delayed this year.

By BH&G Garden Editors
Updated September 09, 2020
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Though summer's not quite over yet (fall doesn't officially start until September 22), soon you'll probably see a few trees starting to turn color. But before you dig out your cozy sweaters for a leaf-watching road trip, take a look at the fall foliage forecast for 2020. According to AccuWeather, which just released their first prediction for fall weather, we should expect a delay this year due to warm weather predicted for September. Air temperatures are an important factor for fall leaf color, and with this year's warm temperatures expected to stick around through September and even into October in some parts of the country, AccuWeather is predicting that peak fall foliage could be delayed by about two weeks this year.

Map of fall foliage predictions in U.S. from Smoky Mountains
Credit: Courtesy of SmokyMountains.com

Peak Fall Color by Region

SmokyMountains.com, a Smoky Mountains tourism site, creates an interactive map to determine peak fall colors across the United States by county. The best color is represented by cherry red, but often the in-between phase of fall foliage is just as beautiful as the full transition. For 2020, SmokyMountains.com is predicting the first areas of the country will reach their peak around September 21. This includes the northernmost parts of the country, such as northern Minnesota, and areas with high elevation, including the Rocky Mountain region in Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado. By September 28 through October 5, most mountainous regions will reach their peak, along with northern states such as Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

By October 12-19, SmokyMountains.com predicts that northern areas will be past their prime, and fall color will be starting to peak in the Midwest (including Iowa, Illinois, and Kentucky) and areas in the Pacific Northwest, such as Washington and Oregon. Finally, you'll see the best fall color in Southern states beginning October 26 (in states such as Tennessee and North Carolina) through November 16, when the southernmost states (Texas, Louisiana, and Florida) finally reach their peak.

This color-changing map is based on data from the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) on historical temperatures, precipitation, and forecasts. SmokyMountains.com plugs this data into an algorithm that factors in the elements of meteorology (temperature, moisture, sunlight, and precipitation) that impact peak fall color. Although there's no way to predict with 100% accuracy what nature will do, the data collected each year helps to make this map the best prediction possible.

cass river boat tour with fall leaves
Credit: Bob Stefko

Trees With the Most Colorful Fall Foliage

When your local trees start turning color, you may notice some have more fiery hues than others. For example, you can almost always count on maples to put on a dazzling show, especially sugar and red maples, which are native to much of Eastern and Central North America. No wonder they are honored as the state tree of New York, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Vermont, and Rhode Island!

According to the Arbor Day Foundation, a number of other deciduous tree species also produce traffic-stopping autumnal displays across different regions of the United States. For example, in southern regions, keep an eye out for sourwood and sweetgum trees, which turn vivid shades of red, yellow, and purple. Across the Rocky Mountains, aspens light up the landscape with their golden leaves.

While the fall foliage colors are present in leaves the entire growing season, they wait until the weather starts to turn crisp before they show through, and the green pigment known as chlorophyll fades. Although everyone might be waiting a little longer this year for that to happen, amazing fall colors are sure to come.

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