Colorful fall foliage a glorious sight in Arkansas

The first day of Autumn is Wednesday, Sept. 22, and the signs of Fall are already here.

For one, Pumpkin Spice, whatever that is, has returned to coffee shops across the land.

And while it was a crisp 92 degrees on Monday, temperatures have veered down this week, and that’s always a reassuring sign.

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More importantly, the leaves are starting to change from green to glorious color. 

David Angotti, the founder at SmokyMountains.com, said his site has a “predictive fall map” that allows users to gaugewhen and where leaves will be at peak fall color.

“In order to accurately predict fall, our model ingests a multitude of data sources including historical precipitation, NOAA precipitation forecasts, elevation, actual temperatures, temperature forecasts, and average daylight exposure to develop a baseline fall date for each county in the continental United States,” he wrote in an email. “Next, the model consumes hundreds-of-thousands of additional data points from a variety of government and non-government sources and layers this data over our own historical data from past years. Finally, with a high degree of accuracy, the algorithm produces nearly 50,000 date outputs indicating the progression of fall for every county in a graphical presentation that is easy to digest.

The map, seen below, can be viewed by clicking here.

On the map, northwest Arkansas is already starting to see minimal color. You can change the date and you can see that central Arkansas will start seeing more color by Oct. 4.

Arkansas is blessed with 19 million acres of forest, or about 56 percent of the state, according to the Arkansas Farm Bureau.

That survey said Arkansas has roughly 11.8 billion trees, and of those, 42 percent are oak or hickory, and the leaves of deciduous trees are where the color comes in. Hickory goes yellow, while oak can be a bright red, with some some copper or yellow.

What Arkansas doesn’t have are many maple trees and the brilliant bright red leaves they produce.

Angotti notes that his map is a prediction, and, like the weather, it doesn’t always work out exactly.

“Similar to any meteorological forecast, leaf predictions will never be 100 percent accurate,” he said. “However, after publishing our predictive fall foliage map for nearly a decade, we are quite confident in our data sources, process, and algorithm. Our experience combined with a scheduled mid-season update has us especially confident about this year’s predictions. Our goal is that this data-based, interactive tool will increase the number of people that are able to enjoy peak fall in 2021.

It is also national, so if one were to travel to, say, Niagara Falls this week, you could use the map to “easily determine the best time to view foliage anywhere” in western New York or, for that matter, in the country.

He also noted that using the map is fun and “it's kind of addictive,” which the fact checkers here rate as very true.

To help improve the map and its predictions, Angotti said, a mid-season update would be released later this month.

"Due to the complexity of applying a humongous, multi-faceted dataset, we have historically published our map annually without mid-season updates,” he said. “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.”

The site also produced what it called the “Ultimate Leaf Peeping Guide” and where the best place is in all 50 states to see fall foliage.

The list can be viewed by clicking the top places to view fall foliage and includes three places in Arkansas:

  • Devil’s Den State Park, near Winslow

  • Mount Magazine State Park, south of Paris

  • Talimena National Scenic Byway, near Mena

All three locations are easy enough drives from central Arkansas. Closer to home, and while they didn’t make the cut, personal experience says Pinnacle Mountain State Park in west Little Rock can be glorious.