Welcome back Fall Color Enthusiasts! This begins my 15th year following the fall color season in the mountains of western North Carolina, and it’s been a great experience watching the trees turn each year and interacting with all of you. I hope my reports have helped you over the years to plan great trips to the mountains to see the beauty of the High Country and that this year will be no different.
So, what do we expect for this upcoming fall color season? Believe it or not, it is still too early to make accurate predictions, but I can say this: we have had a moderate to warm summer (July was hot and dry, but August started off cool and wet, but has recently transitioned to the “dog” days with high temperatures and low rainfall). We’ve had adequate rainfall, so we are not in a drought situation at this time. And for some reason, and this is only anecdotal, the trees look particularly lush and full of leaves this year. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but others have remarked on this also. It may have been the result of good spring weather, or it may simply be that we’re all delusional. But there are plenty of good-looking trees out there right now, and that bodes well for the fall color display to occur later on.
The month of September is the most crucial for determining the timing, and to some extent, the quality of our fall color display. I will be watching the weather closely to see how it progresses through the month. NOAA predicts that we will have above normal temperatures over most of the US, but in the southeast, it is a tossup – that is, it could equally be warmer, on average, or even cooler, which is NOAA speak for “it is difficult to predict exactly what’s going to happen”. Regarding precipitation, September looks to have above normal precipitation. It is supposed to be an active hurricane season too, but so far it has been quiet. There are at least four disturbances now though, and weather forecasters are keeping track of them. You can find these predictions at the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center (Click HERE to view).
Going into October, the longer-range forecast is for above normal temperatures in almost all the lower 48 states. Precipitation is expected to be below normal for the southern Appalachians, which bodes well for our fall color display. Colors are better if the period leading up to the peak display is sunny. Cooler temperatures, combined with sunny days are best, but if you can’t have cool, sunny will do.
These weather predictions suggest that the timing of fall colors may be slightly delayed this year. In a normal year, we would expect the following timings for peak fall color displays, which strongly depend on elevation, with leaves turning first at high elevations and then colors work their way downward each week. Note also that peak color may vary a few days on either end. Here is a listing of the average times for peak color displays, separated into elevational ranges:
- Above 4,500’: late September into first week of October
- 4,500’ down to 3,000’: around Oct 10th to Oct 20th
- 3,000’ down to 2,000’: Oct 20th – Oct 31st
- 2,000’ down to 1,000’: Oct 31st to Nov 14th
- Below 1,000’: Nov 14th to end of November
With that expectation of warming, I’d say colors may be delayed a few days to a week, depending on just how above normal the temperatures are in late September and early October. I’ll get better at setting dates as we closer to peak color times. In fact, I should be able to perfectly predict the day it peaks, on the day it peaks (wink, wink!).
I have attached some pictures of trees in and around the Boone, NC area from this week. Most are urban street trees. Red maples and a few urban sugar maples are coloring up already, as they do every year, and native flowering dogwoods are well on their way now also. But the hillsides and forests are still lush and green, and should start showing color in three weeks or so. I will be going out regularly starting the first of September to report on the progression of color in the mountains.
That’s about it for this week. I’ll heading out in mid-September to some higher elevation sites along the Parkway around the Asheville area, as these areas turn earlier than other places. Watch for it and have a great rest of your week!