By Jesse Wood
In his latest fall color report, Dr. Howard Neufeld, an App State professor known as the ‘Fall Color Guy,’ said that fall color may arrive at least seven days earlier than he’s seen before.
“If colors continue to develop at the pace of this last week, I may have to state, for about the first time ever, that I think colors may come early this year, by at least 7 days. However, the coming week is supposed to be warm (mid-70s in the Boone area) and that may slow down the color development,” Neufeld wrote.
If the color doesn’t slow down, Neufeld wrote that he thinks peak color could arrive in Boone and Blowing Rock area around Oct. 7 instead of Oct. 12-14. He noted that he’ll be sure by this weekend.
He’s seen a near rainbow of color so far with sourwoods, sugar maples, red maples, birches, tulip poplars and ash trees.
Responding to an email on Thursday evening, Neufeld said that the forests near the parkway and vicinity are starting to show color and are perhaps 10 percent towards peak color.
“I think we should be in for a good fall color season – we’ve had generally sunny and cool weather, at least up to this last week, where it has warmed. Sunny and cool should bring out the reds on the maples, black gums, sourwoods, and huckleberries, plus sassafras. I’m already seeing a lot of sugar maples turning color, especially in town, and that seems early. Most forecasters are predicting an early season this year, maybe up to a week early. Of course, this warm weather will slow down color development, but it does seem that the trees are changing much earlier than in past years,” Neufeld wrote.
Here’s the rest of his response regarding general thoughts of this year’s leaf season:
“I am also seeing a lot of leaf fall, mostly sugar maples, plus some birch, and again, that is early. Tulip poplar in the Boone area are definitely turning yellow now, as are birch, and ash trees are already a deep purple color. Magnolias, which are closely related to tulip poplars, are just now starting to yellow up. Their leaves turn yellow initially, then a rich chocolate brown. Virginia creeper are now in full red color, which you can see as they crawl up the trunks of trees, or stretch out over telephone lines. Burning bushes are also now in near peak red color. There is a magnificient sugar maple on the Blowing Rock road near the dentist office across from McDonalds that turns a brilliant orange/yellow each year, and it is firing up right now. Many of the sugar maples on the ASU campus are showing great color now. As for the forests out on the Parkway and vicinity, they are starting to show color (perhaps 10% toward the peak now), with Rough Ridge much further ahead. At high elevations on the Parkway, colors are fairly well along now. So, if it gets back to cool and sunny, I think we could be about a week early for peak color (toward Oct 6th instead of the 13th).”
Asked about the impact Hurricane Irma had when it came through, Neufeld wrote:
“Hurricane Irma came through early enough that it didn’t do much damage here in the Boone area. While some branches and leaves came down, the majority stayed up because they were still green. If it had come later, like this week, it might have blown more off. They had it worse down around Asheville to Franklin, where entire trees came down, but again, most leaves are still up there even in those areas (I was down that way this past Sunday). So, all in all, not much of an effect. We’ll still have a good color season.”
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.
Fall leaf season is the busiest tourist season in the High Country and among the most anticipated for tourism officials. During peak leaf color, the Blue Ridge Parkway will look like a traffic jam and folks will be on the side of the road taking pictures with their phones and cameras.
“Let me tell you this, we are fixing to be in the busy season. We are about 2 weeks away from it being wide open,” Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority Executive Director Tracy Brown said at a town event on Monday.
Photos by Jan Todd at Grandfather Mountain