Fall leaf forecast: get ready for good color

Visitors to Western North Carolina’s mountains can look forward to a vibrant display of color this autumn, predicts Kathy Mathews, Western Carolina University’s fall foliage forecaster and associate professor of biology.

“It’s been a hot year in North Carolina, with above-average temperatures this summer. Rainfall has been slightly less than average during the spring and summer. These are two factors I look at when thinking about the timing and quality of fall leaf color change in the mountains,” Mathews said.

Mathews believes that the formation of ample yellow, orange and red pigments in the leaves seems to correlate with dry weather throughout the year and that the drier the climate, the more brilliant the fall leaves tend to be.

“I predict this fall color change will be variable throughout the southern mountains, but on the whole we should expect to see rich and attractive color change this season,” she said.

Although peak fall colors typically occur during the third week of October, the peak may arrive a bit later this year, perhaps more toward the end of October because of the warm temperatures.

“Peak color corresponds to the first frost date of the year,” she said. “If frost comes later than usual, so will the peak color change of the leaves.

“Look for the earliest color change to take place on the sourwoods and dogwoods, which both turn red, as well as the tulip poplars, which become yellow but tend to turn brown early,” Mathews said. “Colorful maples, with hues of red, orange and yellow, and birches, which turn yellow, bring us into the peak period. Finally, oaks turn orange and red to round out the later color change in the season.”

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