By Hailey Blevins
It’s the first week of October, though it doesn’t feel like it yet. The Fall Color Guy started off October with a Fall Color Update discussing the effect this warmer weather is having on the changing of the leaves.
Dr. Howard Neufeld is a biologist and professor at Appalachian State University, but you may know him as the Fall Color Guy. He studies physiological plant ecology, plant water relations, ecosystem ecology and air pollution effects on plants.
The Fall Color Guy started this week’s Fall Color Update with photos from Mark File’s Romantic Asheville website that show the stark difference in the color of leaves between 2014 and this year for September 28th. The photo from 2014 shows many of the trees already in color while this year’s photo show very little to no color.
So what caused the trees to be so different in color just a few years later? The Fall Color Guy says the delay in the changing leaves this year is due to the usual weather for this time of year, “This year, color development seems behind schedule due to warm weather.” We may have missed damage to our trees when Hurricane Florence came through a few weeks back, but the weather is still against the trees.
This fall’s warm weather isn’t something to worry about too much, Dr. Neufeld says. Fall may be warmer than usual this year, but that doesn’t mean it always will be.
When he went over his past foliage forecasts going back to 2008, he found a similar pattern. Usually, he found that on this date the colors were starting to appear. The next weekend he was saying they were near or at peak. The weekend after, they were at peak or after peak.
Sometimes, he saw that they were starting slow but picked up and got back on schedule if a cold front moved through. “This year it’s all still green, so this warm weather has delayed the onset of the fall colors. They’re starting to show up here and there, in some places more than others. But it is way behind this year.”
We may not get colors as vivid as usual this fall, depending on the weather for the next couple of weeks. “Based on all those ten years, I’m going to say right now it’s pretty far behind, but if the weather cools off, and I think it’s supposed to do that next week, the colors could develop fairly rapidly. So that by the time we get into mid or late October, the trees may have caught up.”
Last year, the High Country had spells of warm fronts followed by cold fronts that alternated, Dr. Nuefeld noted. This alternation of warm and cold weather seemed to confuse the trees as they started to change color before suddenly dropping their leaves early. He noticed this especially with the maple trees on Appalachian State University’s campus.
Dr. Neufeld said it’s hard to predict how the leaves will change though since this type of weather for fall isn’t known very well. He’s currently watching it closely, studying it and taking notes for future reference and comparison. If the weather remains warm, the High Country will see the leaves staying on the trees longer. However, they are likely not to change as quickly and may not be as vivid.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t any changes happening. Some trees respond more to daylight than to the temperature, a study is currently going on to figure out which trees these are. The leaves of some trees are beginning to change, Dr. Neufeld notes, “I’m starting to seeing more every day. For example, I’m seeing the tulip poplars turn yellow, and I’m seeing the maples turn here on campus.”
It looks like we’ll have to wait a bit longer to take hikes to see the beautiful fall colors across the Appalachian Mountains. Dr. Neufeld recommends hiking at Elk Knob, an easy two mile hike, once the colors start coming in for a panoramic view of the mountains and colors.
Keep up with the Fall Color Updates here: https://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors