Fall foliage forecast shows Utah County leaves may peak early

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Leaves have already started to change color in Provo Canyon and the surrounding areas. According to a fall foliage forecast published by SmokyMountains.com, Utah County’s leaves may reach their peak color during the week of Sept. 21 and Sept. 28, earlier than most years. (Addie Blacker)

Those hoping to catch the peak of the changing fall colors in Utah County this year may have to get out a little bit earlier than usual.

According to a fall foliage forecast published by the tourism website SmokyMountains.com, Utah’s leaves appear to be changing colors ahead of most of the country, with some of the state’s foliage already nearing their peak.

Utah County’s fall leaves typically reach their peak colors at the very end of September and beginning of October, according to U.S. Forest Service public affairs specialist Kathy Jo Pollock. However, Smoky Mountain’s foliage report predicts the county’s leaves will reach their peak colors sometime during the week of Sept. 21 and Sept. 28 this year.

“The colors do seem to be changing a little bit earlier than normal, as far as I can tell,” BYU plant and wildlife sciences professor Sam St. Clair said. “The changing of colors is a result of the loss of the green type of chlorophyll. The timing of that can be influenced by stressful conditions, such as hotter, drier summers, as well as longer periods of drought.”

As of Sept. 16, the Provo area had received just 61% of its average year-to-date precipitation levels, according to data collected by the National Resources Conservation Service. Both St. Clair and Pollock pointed to this lack of moisture as one of the biggest factors in influencing when the fall foliage starts to change and how early it reaches its peak.

A variety of climate-related factors may cause this year’s fall foliage in Utah County to reach its peak color sooner than usual. (Addie Blacker)

St. Clair acknowledged a number of additional elements that can impact when leaves start to change color, including colder-than-usual temperatures, water sources in the area and the trees’ species. St. Clair pointed out that different species are influenced in different ways by such elements, which is why it can be difficult to determine whether or not it’s normal for Utah’s foliage to change before the rest of the country’s.

Pollock also noted extreme weather events like the high-speed winds experienced throughout the state on Sept. 9 can cause leaves to fall before changing color at all. She said a culmination of these factors can cause the leaves’ peak colors to be less vibrant than usual, especially in lower elevations.

However, Pollock was quick to point out the leaves in some of the more popular Utah County fall hotspots, such as the Alpine and Nebo Loops, will almost always deliver with bright, vivid colors.

A number of locals are already flocking to such areas to ensure they don’t miss the peak colors. Provo Canyon and the Alpine Loop have especially seen a considerable amount of movement from those hoping to catch a glimpse of the changing leaves.

“Due to the wild weather we’ve had lately (inland hurricane winds, wildflower smoke skies, a very hot/dry summer), the fall foliage by salt lake fired off almost an entire month ahead of time,” wrote Instagram user @dinosaur802.

“Autumn colors in #Utah are beautiful!” wrote Instagram user @harris.mataafa. “Perfect day for a family picnic.”

Despite the recent less-than-favorable climate conditions, Pollock expects locals to continue to take to the mountains and be plenty happy with how the fall colors turn out.

“There are still going to be areas throughout the county that are going to be quite pretty for people to get out and enjoy, regardless of the circumstances,” Pollock said.

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