November 28, 2022

2022 Fall Color Forecast

Looking ahead to fall (and winter too)
By Ross Boissoneau | Oct. 1, 2022

With summer in the rearview mirror, it’s time to trade the shimmering blue of the lakes for the reds and golds of autumn leaves. But when will the colors peak? And what lies beyond, when the soft white flakes fill the sky and coat the ground?

We’re not the only ones wondering. Each year, weather forecasters and staff at various visitors bureaus, chambers of commerce, and other outlets are peppered with similar questions by those who want to get out and take in all the region has to offer in the later, cooler seasons. Thing is, no one can accurately predict exactly what’s going to happen, exactly when the colors will be at their boldest, or how much snow we will get and when. (At least not this far in advance.)

But we asked the experts anyway.

Leaf Peeping
“We have not started getting phone calls yet regarding fall color—I think everyone is savoring this wonderful summer—but they will come,” Jamie Jewell, executive director of the Leelanau Chamber of Commerce, tells us when we talk in September.

She says the fall color season typically peaks in Leelanau in mid-October. “It’s always a guess how the summer temperatures and rainfall affect the much-anticipated color season, but it always seems to hit between the second and third weeks of October, later near the shoreline.”

“Typically it’s cooler a little sooner inland, lower overnight lows, including Gaylord,” agrees Faith Fredrickson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gaylord. “By the lake [Lake Michigan], it’s warmer.”

Fredrickson says that inland cooling causes the trees to turn sooner in the north central areas, such as Otsego and Wexford Counties, as opposed to lakeshore areas such as Benzie and Leelanau Counties or the tip of the mitt.

“We’ll start to see [leaves change] in Gaylord in mid- to late September, with the peak the first or second week in October,” Fredrickson says. (For those keeping track, that’s right about now!) But if September is warmer than average—and this one had its share of sunny, 80-degree days—the colors tend to appear later.

Fredrickson adds that the leaves turn sooner and often don’t last as long in the Upper Peninsula, while they are both later and slower along the lakeshore. “[The leaves] might be done in Gaylord, but you can still go to the Tunnel of Trees,” she says, referring to the iconic stretch of M-119 between Cross Village and Harbor Springs where the trees create a canopy over the road. It’s rightfully considered one of the state’s most appealing places to take in the fall colors.

Tree color isn’t the only thing people call about. The fauna as well as the flora beckon visitors. Fall birding is a big draw to the area, and of course hunting season brings folks north from across the state. Paul Beachnau, the executive director at the Gaylord Area Convention and Tourism Bureau, recalls one of the more…colorful calls he’s gotten regarding the fall season. “One time I got a call asking if the elk go south for the winter,” he says.

Any migrating elk notwithstanding, he agrees with Jewell that the warmer weather through September pushed colors to the back of most people’s minds. “[The season has] been really strong for golf,” he says. “The first weekend after Labor Day is always one of the busiest. It’s good weather and the kids are in school,” he says, making golf more attractive for young couples and especially for younger retirees. “It’s a more relaxed season in terms of visitors.”

Whenever those perfect leaves do appear in your neck of the woods, hopefully the weather cooperates. Because even if the colors have yet to peak, high winds and/or rainstorms can bring the season to a crashing halt. “The duration depends on the weather. Fall storms and winds can take the leaves off the trees,” Fredrickson says.

Watch the Forecast
Find 2022 fall color maps for northern Michigan online at spots like mlive.com (predicting peak from Oct. 7-14), travel-mi.com (predicting peak on Oct. 10), mymichiganbeach.com (predicting peak from Oct. 15-29). For an outside perspective, smokymountains.com—which puts together a comprehensive U.S. map for fall color—says NoMi will be at its most vibrant around Oct. 10.

Winter Weather
After the fall colors have subsided, there’s a season (hopefully brief) of brown before winter blows in. And when will that happen?

Well, we don’t love this, but the Farmers’ Almanac is predicting a long, cold, snowy winter. (“Unreasonably cold, snowy” are the exact words.) We don’t mind a nice coating of powder, but we aren’t looking for frostbite, thank you very much.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is also calling for some extra snow, mainly for the southern part of the starte, though they think temperatures will be their usual level of cool. (Note: This is coming off the U.S.’s third hottest summer on record.)

In what we’re considering to be good news, Fredrickson shares there are no obvious signs of an especially bad winter at this point. She notes the various models for weather prediction utilize the same information, and their equations simply process that information slightly differently. “It’s kind of like Plinko,” she says. “It’s the same starting point. If two (models) land in the same spot, there’s a high probability” that what they suggest will turn out to be the case.

She says the current models aren’t showing anything to indicate large derivations from the mean in terms of winter weather. In other words, at this point she says to expect average temperatures, though early indications are for above-average precipitation. “It could be a little above normal precipitation,” Fredrickson says. “Whether it’s cold or warm will [dictate] snow or rain.”

Beachnau doesn’t need any specifics to suggest the best course of action. As far as he’s concerned, the more snow, the better. “We love winter in Gaylord,” he says enthusiastically.

Located in one of the biggest snow belts in the lower peninsula, the area boasts two highly-regarded downhill ski resorts and much more. “Otsego and Treetops also have extreme tubing. Cross-country ski and snowshoe trails. Winter rafting on the Sturgeon River,” Beachnau says, ticking off the list.

That’s just the Gaylord area. Add to that the other ski hills scattered throughout the region, the trails perfect for fat bikes, snowshoeing or cross-country, and all the other amenities the region is known for.

So for those wondering when the best time is to head north, the answer is: now, later, and again after that. (So long as you don’t mind the snow when it arrives.)

“You can’t go wrong coming to enjoy Leelanau at any time,” Jewell says.

Though she specifies her home area, her sentiments resonate throughout the region for anyone who loves exploring Up North.

Watch the Forecast
The Farmers’ Almanac is a classic for a reason, and you can find their predictions at farmersalmanac.com (or pick up the 2023 print edition). NOAA (noaa.gov) and the associated Climate Prediction Center of the National Weather Service (cpc.ncep.noaa.gov) offer long-term looks into the future as well.

Photo courtesy of Gaylord Area Convention and Tourism Bureau.

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