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Record Rainfall May Dampen Fall Color Show

Monday, August 19th, 2013

ASHEVILLE NC – Abundant rainfall during one of the wettest summers in Western North Carolina history may portend a dampening of the intensity of the fall color show this year unless autumn brings vastly drier conditions, predicts Kathy Mathews, Western Carolina University’s fearless fall foliage forecaster.

“With record rainfall during July, the trees in the mountains look healthy and green at the moment, and that’s a good thing for the trees,” said Mathews. “But leaf-lookers need to keep their fingers crossed for some drier weather in the next couple of months in order for us to see the development of vibrant fall leaf color.”

An associate professor of biology at WCU who specializes in plant systematics, Mathews bases her annual prediction in part on weather conditions, including rainfall, during the spring and summer growing season. She believes that the formation of higher levels of pigments in the leaves correlates with dry weather throughout the year, especially in September. The drier the climate, the more brilliant the fall leaves tend to be, with bright red colors especially dependent upon dry conditions, she said.

“There always will be plenty of color in the yellow and orange hues,” Mathews said. “However, if the days remain cloudy throughout September, there won’t be as much of a pop of bright reds on the leaves.”

Yellow and orange hues result from pigments that the leaves make year-round, hiding under the green color of chlorophyll, she said. As days get shorter and nights get colder, the chlorophyll will break down to reveal the pigments underneath.

On the other hand, the red pigments – anthocyanins – are manufactured by leaves mainly in the fall in response to cooling temperatures and excess sugar production caused by lots of sun, Mathews said. “Dryness also causes production of more red pigment,” she said. “Studies have shown that trees stressed out by dry soils and nutrient deficiency produce more red pigment in the fall. Ample sunshine and dry weather is the combination necessary for brilliant fall foliage.”

Another factor in the annual fall color show is temperature. “Cool nights in September, with temperatures dropping into the low 40s, release the yellow, orange and red colors because chlorophyll degrades faster at lower temperatures,” Mathews said. “Temperature may work in our favor this year, as we have seen relatively cool summer months. If this trend continues, colors may be more vivid despite the rainfall.”

In any event, visitors to the WNC mountains this fall should expect good yellow coloration in the tulip poplars, birches, beeches, and hickories, and oranges in the buckeyes, maples and oaks, she said.

And there is an upside to all the rainfall, even if it means less-vibrant fall colors – the leaves should hang around longer, “With healthy, well-watered trees, we should not see much early leaf drop,” Mathews said.

Depending upon the timing of the first frost, the peak of fall color should arrive during the second week of October in the higher elevations, and during the third week of October in the mid-elevations, Mathews said. Because freezing temperatures quickly degrade chlorophyll, leaves peak in color intensity about five days after a frost, she said.

The color change should begin at the higher mountain elevations in late September and continue through mid-November in the lower levels of WNC.

Regardless of when the peak is and how intense the hues are, visitors always can find good fall color somewhere in the WNC mountains, with more than 100 tree species in the Southern Appalachians. That means not only many different colors of leaves in the fall, but also a lengthy fall color season, Mathews said.

Chimney Rock Offers Six Ways to View Peak Fall Colors

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

ASHEVILLE NC – Leaf peepers aiming to catch fall colors during their peak won’t have to look far to find it now. Weekly fall color and wildflower reports are available to help you plan your visit to Chimney Rock and Lake Lure at chimneyrockpark.com (see the latest below). Peak fall colors are expected to appear in Chimney Rock for up to a couple weeks between mid-October and early November. Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park offers six spectacular ways to view autumn foliage this year, from expert- and self-guided hikes to rock climbing and a photography workshop. The Park has been voted one of the top three Readers’ Choice “Best Scenic Views” by Southern Living magazine.

“The Blue Ridge Mountains feature one of most vibrant and longest fall color displays in America, attracting visitors from around the world. In late September to early November, from popular destinations along the Blue Ridge Parkway to Chimney Rock and Lake Lure, Western North Carolina is among the most beautiful places to go leaf peeping, hiking and auto touring,” said Emily Walker, Park Naturalist & Education Manager.

Fall Color Report, 10-9-2012: Fall colors are appearing at the highest elevations and creeping down into Hickory Nut Gorge. Highway 74A from Asheville, Hwy 64 from Hendersonville and Hwy 9 from Black Mountain to the Park offer beautiful drives sprinkled with reds and yellows right now. In Chimney Rock some leaves are already starting to change, including the poplars, dogwoods, buckeyes, birch, beech, walnuts, sourwoods and sassafras. Meanwhile, the most vibrant colors are in our blooming fall wildflowers, including goldenrod, Pink Turtlehead, Small Wood Sunflower, snakeroot, gerardia, jumpseed and several types of asters. See Chimney Rock’s leaf and wildflower colors, current and last year’s, in our online photo gallery. Follow our Facebook page for up-to-date fall photos.

Catching Peak Colors.  Fall in the mountains rewards leaf peepers with brilliant displays of leaf color, and Chimney Rock shows the full spectrum—from deep red and maroon to fiery yellow and orange. Thanks to its range in elevation from 1,100 to 2,500 feet and a large variety of deciduous trees in Hickory Nut Gorge, peak colors can last up to a couple weeks. Below are six of Chimney Rock’s favorite outings that will reward guests with an eyeful of fall color.  Advance registration is required for guided hikes and workshops; register online at chimneyrockpark.com/events.

Get an Expert Guide

  1. Head Off the Beaten Path and take a guided Fall Color Ridge Hike on Chimney Rock Mountain with internationally renowned naturalist Ron Lance on Saturday, October 20 from 1-3 p.m. This is the Park’s most scenic guided hike of the entire year!
  2. View stunning fall colors from the end of a rope high above the Gorge. Sign up for a rock climbing adventure with Fox Mountain Guides, and bring your friends to save money with a group rate.
    No prior experience is necessary. Two-hour, half- and full-day clinics are available.

Take a Hike

  1. Soak up 75-mile panoramic views on top of the Chimney some 900 feet above the valley floor.  Get there by the modernized elevator or upgraded Outcroppings trail. This is the most dramatic and popular way to get your fall color fix!
  2. Fall wildflowers add bright splashes of color along our trails. This season brings blooming beauties from goldenrod and Pink Turtlehead to several types of asters.
  3. Immerse yourself in the vibrant leaf colors by hiking along the Hickory Nut Falls trail. Study the diverse range of leaf colors from oak and hickory to red maple and enjoy marveling at the 404-foot waterfall, one of the highest of its kind east of the Mississippi River, at the trail’s end.

Capture Colors on Camera

  1. Shutterbugs looking for expert tips and tricks to frame peak fall colors will find them at Chimney Rock’s one- or two-day Shutterbugs Nature Photography Workshops on Saturday and Sunday, October 27-28 from 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m.. Award-winning photographer Jeff Miller leads one of the most affordable workshops held in one of the most beautiful parks in Western N.C.

Park admission is $15 adult, $7 youth ages 6-15 and free for under six. Guided hikes, rock climbing and workshops cost extra. For more information on fall color, scenic drives and events throughout Western North Carolina, visit fallinthemountains.com

Fall into Live Local Music. The Old Rock Café is rocking on fall weekend nights with Beats, Burgers & Brews, featuring live music performances by local artists. Live music will be held Fridays and Saturdays, 7-9 p.m. from October 12 through November 4; go to chimneyrockpark.com for a list of upcoming bands. After a few hours of leaf peeping in the Park, come enjoy a cold beer or glass of wine while relaxing outdoors on our riverside deck with views of the Rock. While we recommend the Old Rock’s delicious burgers, soups and local brews, we’ll be serving the full menu. The Café is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday through November 4. Call (828) 625-2329 for weekly specials or view the online menu.

About Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park

Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park has been recognized as one of the Southeast’s most iconic and popular travel destinations for more than 100 years. The 535-million-year-old monolith called Chimney Rock offers guests 75-mile panoramic views overlooking Lake Lure and Hickory Nut Gorge. In 2012 the Park is celebrating the 20-year anniversary of the release of The Last of the Mohicans, which features Chimney Rock’s 404-foot waterfall and mountain scenery during the film’s final 17 minutes. The Park is located 30 minutes southeast of Asheville on Highway 64/74A in Chimney Rock, N.C. Call (800) 277-9611 or visit chimneyrockpark.com.

WCU’s Fearless Foliage Forecaster Predicts Good, but Spotty, Fall Colors

Monday, August 20th, 2012

ASHEVILLE NC – Visitors to Western North Carolina’s mountains can look forward to a good display of color this autumn, although some areas will enjoy brighter hues than others, predicts Kathy Mathews, Western Carolina University’s fearless fall foliage forecaster.

The intensity of the color show will vary depending on where leaf-peepers are looking because of fluctuations in the amount of rainfall received across the region this spring and summer, said Mathews. An associate professor of biology at WCU who specializes in plant systematics, she bases her annual prediction in part on weather conditions, including rainfall, during the spring and summer growing season.

“This should be a pretty good year for fall color, but colors will be spotty,” Mathews said. “Many areas of Western North Carolina have experienced a lot of rainfall throughout the year, while Asheville and points north have been drier. The drier areas should have the best fall color, while the wetter areas will be less vibrant.”

Mathews believes that the formation of higher levels of yellow, orange and red pigments in the leaves correlates with dry weather throughout the year. The drier the climate, the more brilliant the fall leaves tend to be, she said.

“This has been an unusually rainy spring and summer for much of Western North Carolina, which, if it continues through September and October, could mean less color, especially in the red range,” she said. “However, if evening temperatures continue to drop steadily through the next two months, it will hasten the loss of green from the leaves to reveal more yellow and orange pigments.”

In addition, a trend of warm, wet weather could equate to a longer fall color season. Mathews predicts that areas that have seen drought conditions, including the U.S. Midwest, may experience bright fall color, but only for a brief period before trees drop their leaves.

As is the case with predicting the weather, there are no guarantees when it comes to forecasting the intensity of the fall color season. Cloud cover and ample rainfall in the weeks ahead could mute the color show, Mathews said.

Cooler temperatures and fewer hours of daylight in the autumn contribute to the decomposition of chlorophyll, the chemical that gives leaves their green color in spring and summer. As chlorophyll breaks down, yellow and orange pigments – always present in the leaves, but masked by the green of chlorophyll – are revealed, and new red pigments are produced.

Depending upon the timing of the first frost, the peak of fall color should arrive during the second week of October in the higher elevations, and during the third week of October in the mid-elevations, Mathews said. Because freezing temperatures quickly degrade chlorophyll, leaves predictably peak in color a few days after a frost, she said.

The color change should begin at the higher mountain elevations in late September and continue through mid-November in the lower levels of WNC.

Regardless of when the peak is and how intense the hues are, visitors can always find good fall color somewhere in the WNC mountains, Mathews said.

“We have more than 100 tree species in the Southern Appalachians, which means not only many different colors of leaves in the fall, but also a lengthy fall color season. Some trees change and drop leaves very early, such as tulip poplar and yellow buckeye, while others linger and change later, such as oaks and hickories.”

The U.S. Northeast and Midwest have fewer tree species with good fall color, mainly sugar maples, leading to a short burst of brilliant colors, she said. “The same is true in the Western states, with color mainly coming from quaking aspens,” she said. “In Europe, again, there are many fewer tree species, meaning shorter, less diverse fall color than in the Southern Appalachians.”

From the Great Smokies to the Blue Ridge, the WNC mountains offer ample opportunity for leaf-looking this fall, Mathews said.

“Look for some of the best colors on Grandfather Mountain, the Graveyard Fields area of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Nantahala National Forest along U.S. Highway 64 between Macon and Clay counties,” she said. “These and other ridgetop areas show colors in all hues of red, orange and yellow. The forested areas will have a lot of yellow tulip poplars, red maple, and orange and red oak. Graveyard Fields also has a lot of shrubs that turn red.”