Leaves start changing in NC mountains; ‘Fall color map’ released

ASHEVILLE, NC — It sure hasn’t felt much like fall so far, but already some leaves are changing colors at very high elevations in the North Carolina mountains.

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Photos from Grandfather Mountain late last week showed some color in the leaves and the first hint that leaf-viewing season is just ahead.

So far, the “leaf experts” at two North Carolina universities in the mountains don’t have a forecast about how vibrant the fall leaf colors will look this year.

Beverly Collins, Western Carolina University’s new fall foliage forecaster, said earlier this month that much would depend on temperatures in the mountains for September.

“If our warmer-than-normal weather continues into fall, the colors will be later, more subdued and spottier,” Collins said.


Meanwhile, Dr. Matt Estep from ASU, writes weekly reports, but has not given an overall forecast on leaf how vibrant colors might be this year.

He did say in his first post this year: “I’m looking forward to yet another great fall color season.”

Still, Estep did give a look at timing for tree colors at various altitude in his latest forecast on Sept. 21.

“I predict that starting next weekend, we will start to see noticeable changes on the hillsides at the higher elevations, such as the summit of Grandfather and other high peaks here in the Southern Appalachians, and then it will begin moving downhill and the true fall leaf color season will get into gear,” Estep wrote.

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Estep explained when the best viewing would be available for the upcoming season.

“… at an elevation of 3,000’ to about 4,500’, the peak will be early to mid-October, especially in mountains north of Asheville up to the Virginia border. Lower elevations will peak in late October, and below 2,000’, in early November even.

Meanwhile, ASU released a Fall Color Map for North Carolina, which this year added towns and scenic roads.

“This map differs from most other such maps because it combines the effects of both elevation and latitude on fall color, whereas most other maps simply use elevation alone,” wrote Howard Neufeld and Michael Denslow of ASU, who came up with the map.

Meanwhile, Collins at Western Carolina, gave Blueridgenow.com this time-frame:

Plan on peak color the weekend of Oct. 15-16 for elevations over 4,000 feet, Oct. 22-23 for elevations ranging 2,500 to 4,000 feet and the remainder of October into November for the lower elevations.

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