How Data is Helping Leaf Peepers Plan the Perfect Fall Trip

Happy Fall! Fall is my favorite season and living in the Northeastern region of the Continental US I look forward to chillier days and leaves changing. I enjoy seeing what Albert Camus describes as “Second Spring” where the leaves are a vibrant red, yellow and orange! The challenge I have every season is finding that right time to drive up to that scenic overlook to capture a picture perfect landscape of colorful leaves with just the right amount of blue skies. It looks like a data scientist, Wes Melton might have solved our problems by determining the precise future date that the leaves will peak in each area of the Continental US!

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Wes Melton along with his co-founder David Angotti have created the Fall Foliage Prediction Map. According to Melton, this is one of the only fall leaf tools that provides accurate predictions for the entire continental US. Looking at the snapshot above, a user can take the slider across the 12 week period to see when and where fall foliage will peak in a given region. Looking at the week of October 5th, we can can see patches of the Northern US hitting peak season like Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. Another great area that might not come to mind are the aspen trees in Colorado. 

The story behind the creation of this map is interesting. At the time that they were starting their Smoky Mountains Cabin rentals six years ago, they were getting questions on the best times to experience the fall colors. They started conferring with meteorologists and the predictions were accurate. The advice was well received and they have been updating the tool ever since!

Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower
— Albert Camus

To create the map, a complex algorithm was developed that carefully analyzes several million data points and outputs approximately 50,000 predictive data pieces. This data then enables the program to forecast county-by-county the precise moment when “fall peak” will occur. As time goes on and the algorithm is fed more data, it will only become more and more intelligent.

Some of the data points processed by the prediction algorithm include National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) historical temperatures, precipitation, forecast temperatures, and forecast precipitation; historical leaf peak trends; and peak observation trends.

I am excited about this story and this tool because it was birthed from customers looking to rent cabins and Melton and Agnotti went above and beyond to accommodate them. They didn’t stop at the Smoky Mountain Region but went on to answer this question for the whole continental US. They were also able to compile data points from several sources to piece together this aesthetically simple visualization.

Check out the map and learn a little bit more on how and why the leaves change color. I would love to hear about your favorite leaf peeping location!


About the Author

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Allen Hillery

ADJUNCT PROFESSOR AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY,
WRITER AND EDITOR AT NIGHTINGALE, A MEDIUM.COM PUBLICATION


Allen serves as part time faculty at Columbia University’s Applied Analytics program. He has extensive experience in developing and executing data analysis and integrating results into marketing programs and executive presentations. Allen is very passionate about data literacy and curates an article series that focuses on the importance of creating data narratives and spotlighting notable figures on how their use of storytelling made major impacts on society.

You can sample his work here: Three Reason Why Storytelling is Important in Business

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