Will it be an average or a spectacular leaf season in North Carolina?

Don Schwenneker Image
Wednesday, August 30, 2017
fall foliage trees leaves

It's my favorite season. Summer is hot, winter is cold, and spring is wet, but fall ... With crisp nights, warm late-day sun, and fall colors, it just doesn't get any better for me. So, fall foliage forecast is something I pay close attention to.

And we are in luck to live in North Carolina. With our varying elevations and different latitudes of mountains that stretch across the western border, fall foliage season can last up eight weeks! That is the longest season in the country. Compare that to New England where their peak season is two weeks at most.


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Hawksbill Mountain Trail, Linville Gorge Wilderness area, Pisgah National Forest
Ian Slack

If you're a fan, you might remember last year wasn't one of our best. Though it was beautiful in spots, the summer of 2016 featured drought and long stretches of hot weather in the mountains. That really stressed the trees going into fall, and made for more spotty colors, and they just weren't as bright.

This year, 2017, it's a different story in western North Carolina. We've had more rain and temps were not as warm. Experts are saying at this point, it looks to be an average season. But 'average,' could turn to 'spectacular,' with just a little help from Mother Nature.

That 'help' would come in the form of a frosty October morning. As the frost forms on the leaves, it signals to the trees that growing season is over. The tree will then stop sending chlorophyll to the leaves.

Chlorophyll is the chemical that converts sunlight into energy for the tree. It's also what gives the leaves their green color.

When the tree stops sending it, the leaves reveal the pigments left inside the leaf left behind by the conversion of sunlight into sugars. Isn't that amazing?

The color of the leaves is there all summer; it's just hidden by the green.

There can be other things that stress the leaves into showing their colors.

Sometimes insect infestations, or herbicide spread along the roadways, can make the trees show their colors. Those stressors are bad news.

Though the help the trees show their colors, the leaves don't stay on the tree as long and tend to brown faster.

If you'd like to know when the colors peak in the mountains, here is a great site from our friends at Appalachian State.

By the way, just thought of something I hate about fall... the raking... Maybe it's not my favorite season. ;)