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Fluctuating Temperatures Make for Challenging Forecast of Peak Leaf Season in Boone Area

Fall color enhances the vista from Grandfather Mountain’s Black Rock parking area on Tuesday. Although leaves are gradually changing at higher elevations, an abundance of green fills the valleys below. A forecast for warmer weather by the end of the week could yet again stall color development, meaning what was originally thought to be an early peak could possibly be late. For more fall color photos, visit Grandfather Mountain’s official Fall Color Gallery at http://bit.ly/2xzZnDz. Photo by Skip Sickler | Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation

By Jesse Wood

The cool and warm weather that the High Country is experiencing leading up to peak leaf season is causing the pace of leaf color development to ebb and flow, according to the latest post by Dr. Howard Neufeld, an ASU biology professor also known as the “Fall Color Guy.”

Here is snippet of Neufeld’s latest post:

“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 …

“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.”

These fluctuating weather patterns are making it difficult to pin down when peak leaf season might occur. A couple weeks ago, Neufeld said he expected leaf season to arrive in the Boone and Blowing Rock area a week earlier than usual, which would mean around Oct. 7 versus Oct. 12-14.

“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?” Neufeld quipped.

This “flip-flopping” of cool and warm weather is also causing leaves to fall prior to peak color and Neufeld said he has noticed that his driveway is filled with dried leaves, something that usually doesn’t happen until mid October.

“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,” Neufeld wrote. “Never seen that before.”

When his post was authored on Oct. 2, Neufeld said that the forests around Elk Knob State Park were about 20 percent along the way toward peak color.

“I’d say next weekend should better than this one, and the week following through to that next weekend even better.

For latest updates from the Fall Color Guy, check out his Facebook page here and the App State biology leaf color page here. Neufeld’s updates are crucial if you’re trying to hit peak leaf season during your travels in the High Country and beyond – or if you just want to learn the science behind the color changes.