Today I had the pleasure of hiking to the top of Elk Knob State Park with Dave and Jan Crotts, long-time followers of my fall color prognostications. It was the first time we had met in person, and we had a very enjoyable and leisurely hike to the top. Because of the low humidity today, the air was clear and crisp, and we could see for miles and miles.
So, what is the state of the leaves? In one word: green! The warm period last week really slowed down color development. However, the past two days the temperatures have been cool, with lows in Boone around 43 F, and highs only in the 60s. This should speed up color development, but it still has a long way to go. I'd rate the forests around Elk Knob at only 20% of the way there – you can see trees starting to color up, but they have at least a week to go, and maybe more. I'd say next weekend should better than this one, and the week following through to that next weekend even better.
But while it's cool right now, the long range NOAA forecast is for temperatures to go back up by the end of this week. We'll still get lows in the 50s in Boone and highs in the low 70s, but those are still high for good color. As a result, colors may still take a while to peak here. I'm no longer saying they will be early – they could even be late now! How's that for how weather can totally wreck your long-range forecasting?
I am concerned by the amount of dried up and fallen leaves I've seen. My driveway is covered, something that doesn't usually happen until about two weeks from now. This makes me wonder just how well colors will develop this year. I haven't seen anything like this in the recent past, so we're in unchartered territory. I think the flip-flopping between cool and warm is causing trees to drop leaves prematurely before they reach good color. It's especially notable on sugar maples, birches and tulip poplars. The iconic sugar maple right across the Blowing Rock road in Boone from the McDonalds is about half-defoliated already, before it has even reached its peak brilliant orange/yellow color. Never seen that before.
In conclusion, colors still have a way to go. Next weekend will be good, and most likely so will the week after that, and perhaps will be even better, at least in the Boone/Blowing Rock area.
I've attached photos of my hike up Elk Knob today. Enjoy!