Predicted weather patterns could prevent leaves from changing into beautiful reds, oranges, and yellows.
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Every season has its marvels, but autumn might have the most wonderful of them all, thanks to breathtaking fall foliage across most of the country. However, this season might be rather disappointing for leaf peepers. Kait Parker, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel, reports that the above-average temperatures expected for most of the country this fall paired with the drought continuing in the West could affect fall foliage. This is because the process of leaves changing colors relies on the "perfect combination" of temperature and moisture. Without the right conditions, leaves might not change at all and could just go from green to brown to falling to the ground. AccuWeather adds that these less than ideal weather conditions could delay fall foliage as well.

The forecast is so uncertain that SmokyMountains.com, a Smoky Mountains tourism site that creates an interactive map to determine peak fall colors across the United States by county, is changing up its annual fall foliage forecast for the first time ever. "Due to the complexity of applying a humongous, multi-faceted dataset, we have historically published our map annually without mid-season updates," says David Angotti, a statistical expert and founder of the site. "However, for the first time ever, we plan to release a mid-season update in late September. By applying the mid-season update, we believe the accuracy and usefulness of the tool will be increased." Here's when you can expect the color-changing leaves in your area at the moment.

Fall foliage prediction map for 2021
Credit: Courtesy of SmokyMountains.com

Peak Fall Color by Region

On the SmokyMountains.com map, 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 this year's forecast, SmokyMountains.com is predicting the first parts of the country will see peak foliage around September 13. This area includes parts of the Rocky Mountain region as well as northern Minnesota.

By September 27, the peak will expand to several other midwestern states, including Wisconsin, Michigan, and parts of the East Coast in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. Parts of Kentucky and Tennessee will also see peak foliage at this time. By October 18, the majority of the states in the West, Midwest, and Southeast will join in, and some areas, such as the Rocky Mountain region and the northern parts of the country, will be past their prime.

Finally, those in the South will see some beautiful leaves from October 25 through November 1. By November 1, most of the United States will pass prime time, and wintery weather will soon arrive.

The color-changing map above is based on data from the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) on historical temperatures, precipitation, and forecasts. SmokyMountains.com plugs the 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.

fall foliage
Credit: DenisTangneyJr/Getty Images

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 for a little longer this year for that to happen, amazing fall colors are sure to come.

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