Archived Outdoors

Color season expected to be earlier, less intense

Beverly Collins is a professor emeritus  at Western Carolina University and the  school’s resident leaf expert. WCU photo Beverly Collins is a professor emeritus at Western Carolina University and the school’s resident leaf expert. WCU photo

Western Carolina University’s resident fall color expert is predicting that the start of leaf season will come earlier than usual but that peak will lack the intensity it had last year, primarily because leaves won’t be changing color at the same time.


“It pains me to say this, but I think that last year was an anomaly in our colors, which were so bright, because we had perfect conditions,” said Professor Emeritus Beverly Collins. “The way the weather is going, and I can’t predict with certainty because I can’t predict when that cold snap is going to happen, but I think that the colors will not be as bright this year as last year because they won’t be as synchronous.”

Because the weather has been dry, some leaves might turn earlier, as dryness brings on the end-of-season stress that spurs the color change. Collins said leaf lookers will have from the end of September through early November to see this year’s color change.

“The second factor is how cold it gets at night,” she said. “The thing that brings on color really quickly is having it get cold and down into the lower 40s with bright, sunny days.”

Day length is the main factor in leaf change, however. Collins said that the earlier nights cause chlorophyll production to slow down, then to stop, until eventually all the chlorophyll are destroyed.

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Leaves will change first at the higher elevations, where the temperatures are lower, and along streams and roads with early-changing species like walnuts, blackgum and dogwood. From there, the leaves turn down the mountains. By the last week of October color will hit town in Sylva and last until November further south.

Track fall foliage at  where a map shows when colors are expected to peak in North Carolina.

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