University of Georgia silvics professor, Dr. Kim Coder, suggests there are ways to predict how beautiful a fall color and autumn leaf display will be. Five key predictors are used along with a good mix of common sense and can forecast the quality of a viewing season with surprising accuracy.
The fall season should start with substantial leaf volume. The more leaves attached to trees entering the color season means more to look at. Droughty summer weather conditions can limit that volume but a wet summer can set up disease and insects. You hope for a moderately dry summer.
Healthy leaves not only present quality viewable leaf surfaces to look at but vigorous leaves stay attached to trees longer. Pest and environmental problems can damage and disrupt leaf surfaces so much that they can actually detract from a quality-viewing season. Increased pests can be a factor of both weather and temperature during the summer growing season.
Temperature and precipitation during the viewing season will have an effect. Cool night temperatures with no freezes or frosts and cool, bright, unclouded sunny days will enhance the leaf color change. Slightly dry conditions in the last half of the growing season and on into the fall have a positive effect.
Here are the conditions Dr. Coder says contribute to a poor season: "Fall rain fronts and long overcast periods diminish color presentation. So do strong wind storms that blow the leaves from the trees. Wet and humid growing seasons lead to many leaf infections and premature leaf abscission. Freezing temperature and hard frosts stop color formation dead."
A true leaf-peeper will keep accurate annual records of peak color days over the past decade. Peak color day dates tend to repeat themselves over time.