Cullowhee, NC: “Due to a drier than usual spring and summer, the fall leaf color in the mountains of Western North Carolina should be putting on a more spectacular show than it has in many years, according to WCU’s autumnal leaf season prognosticator, Kathy Mathews. Mathews, an associate professor of biology at WCU, gives her annual prediction of how foliage around the region will perform as the sunlight of summer wanes and days become shorter and cooler.
Mathews specializes in plant systematics and bases her color forecast on the past and predicted weather conditons. She believes the formation of higher levels of pigments in the leaves correlates with dry weather throughout the year, but especially as fall comes around the bend. “This fall could be one of the best leaf color seasons in WNC in recent memory.” Mathews said. “Three words explain it – unusually dry weather.”
US Geological Survey records indicate our region had been drier than normal for most of the year, but with enough rain in April and June to avoid drought and keep the trees healthy. Sugar concentration in the leaves increase during dry weather because the trees are not taking up as much water through their roots. The abundance of sugars leads to the production of more anthocyanins, the red pigments that appear when green chlorophyll begins receding. “That’s what cases the leaf colors to really pop, along with the simultaneous appearance of orange and yellow pigments on the same or different tree species.”
Also, meteorologists are predicting a light hurricane season in the Atlantic this year, partly because of dry air over the Gulf Of Mexico and Caribbean caused by El Nino, and that reduces the chances of heavy rain and big wind storms in the mountains in August and September – good news for the leaf display.
The peak of fall color often arrives during the first and second week of October in the highest elevations, above 4,000 feet – and during the third week of October in the middle elevations of 2,500 to 3,500 feet. Visitors can look for leaves to be peaking in color intensity a few days after the first reported frost in any particular area.
SOURCE: Karen Chavez/Asheville Citizen-Times