Your 2022 fall foliage outlook

Alabama set to have another great year of fall color
Published: Sep. 15, 2022 at 11:19 AM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Now that we’ve experienced our first shot of fall-like weather, we can look ahead to the changing of the leaves without feeling guilty. I know I am certainly looking forward to the beautiful array of fall color most of Alabama sees.

I mean, how can you not be excited to see a bright sea of yellows, golds, oranges, reds, and even purples that the poplars, dogwoods, maples, and hickories display? Alabama, especially the northern half of the state, puts on quite the fall foliage show most years. While it may not be at the top of everyone’s list, Alabama’s foliage is some of the best in all of the Southeast.

After seeing it for myself the last two years, I can say that it measures up to the best fall color found across the country. In fact, TripSavvy lists North Alabama as having the best foliage in all of the Southeast behind only the Great Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Mountains in Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia.

With all of the state parks, local parks, heavily wooded areas, mix of elevation, and great mixture of tree types, we truly are fortunate when October and November roll around. Some years even a good chunk of December features some pretty colors. As we’re aware, no two years are exactly the same. That may be frustrating to an extent, but it’s also what makes foliage hunting fun and exciting! You never know exactly what you’re going to see or get.

Fall foliage prediction for October 3rd.
Fall foliage prediction for October 3rd.(

What we can tell you is that this year has the makings of a solid year for color in Alabama and adjacent parts of Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia. That’s because the summer was wet and not overly hot. As long as we can avoid an unusual early season frost or freeze and an abnormal stretch of dryness we should be in great shape this fall!

It’s a very realistic possibility that some trees in the highest elevations of North Alabama start to exhibit some color as early as early October. That is not unheard of, but it’s not something that happens every year. No color is in the forecast for Central Alabama early next month -- it’s too early for us! By roughly October 17th, forecasts are calling for patchy color across the northern part of the state, with “minimal” to no color elsewhere. Patchy is the second of seven levels used to measure the extent of fall foliage.

  • 1. No change
  • 2. Minimal
  • 3. Patchy
  • 4. Partial
  • 5. Near peak
  • 6. Peak
  • 7. Past peak

By the following week -- October 24th or so -- the color will start to pop a bit more across the northern part of the state. That’s where the color level will reach partial. For those north of roughly a Tuscaloosa to Birmingham to Opelika line, things will still be patchy at best.

Fall foliage prediction for October 17th.
Fall foliage prediction for October 17th.(

The stretch you really want to circle on your calendar is November 5th thru November 21st. The second half of that window is more likely to feature the best color statewide. Even for areas from Demopolis to Montgomery to Phenix City and points south the color will be solid. The farther south you are in Alabama the later into November you’ll have to wait for peak color.

Of course it’s important to remember these dates are fluid as the exact peak of foliage in any given location is difficult to predict with 100% accuracy.

Fall foliage prediction for November 14th.
Fall foliage prediction for November 14th.(

While most years wind up producing a very nice showing of color across the state, 2022 is shaping up to be pretty darn great. The reasoning behind that is simple: Mother Nature is cooperating. The state as a whole pretty much checks every box there is when looking at the meteorological ingredients necessary for a truly dazzling display of fall color. Obviously we get fall color every year, but it can take off when the weather cooperates.

That’s what is expected to happen this year because there weren’t any big-time heatwaves this summer aside from June. There also haven’t been any drought developments. In addition, most of the state is at or well above normal in terms of rain over the last handful of months.

The only negative -- and it isn’t huge -- is we are likely to see a stretch of above average temperatures next week. That isn’t killer in terms of seeing phenomenal foliage, but we need to see some more days in the 70s and nights in the 50s heading into October. As long as we can tally more of those days and keep frost, strong winds, hurricanes, and severe thunderstorms away through the end of October and early November, we are set!

Alabama's fall foliage will likely be at its peak in mid-November.
Alabama's fall foliage will likely be at its peak in mid-November.(WSFA 12 News)

Did you know the leaf colors you see during the fall are actually a direct result of the weather?

It all boils down to four pigments within the leaves: chlorophyll (green), xanthophylls (yellow), carotenoids (orange), and anthocyanins (reds and purples). Those are the pigments and the colors they are responsible for displaying in leaves.

When it’s warm and days are long, the leaves produce chlorophyll to allow trees to make energy. This results in the green pigment becoming far and away the dominant pigment within the leaf. But when the days start to get shorter in September, October and early November, the trees prepare for winter and following growing season by blocking off the flow of that green chlorophyll from their leaves.

The result is a fading of the green pigment, and a quick uptick in the yellow, orange, red, and purple pigments within the leaf. What folks often conclude is that the colder weather is the sole reason behind this process. While colder weather is associated with this time of year without question, it’s the shortening of the days that produce the amazing array of fall colors each year!

This is very much a subjective topic as many people probably have their own opinions on where in Alabama to go searching for foliage. The northern half of the state is arguably the up and away victor when it comes to a general geographic location to plan a day or weekend trip.

However, there are places all across the state that will show off this fall. A simple Google search will pull up numerous options and suggestions for you. The Alabama Tourism Department does suggest their “Fall Color Trail.” The details on that trip -- which is highly recommended -- can be found here.

Harmon says the state parks and many highways across Alabama provide the absolute best bang for your buck. Some of the absolute best areas to check out, include:

  • Cheaha State Park
  • Palisades Park in Oneonta
  • Guntersville State Park
  • Chewacla State Park
  • Springville-Ashville-Gadsden
  • Jasper-Winfield-Hamilton-Florence
  • Little River Canyon
  • Noccalula Falls
  • Oak Mountain State Park
  • Monte Sano State Park
  • Interstate 59 north of Gadsden
  • Natchez Trace Parkway in Northwest Alabama
  • U.S. 72 near Muscle Shoals

If you want to track the fall foliage forecast whenever you want, you can do so with this very helpful tool.

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