Leaf watch: When should you go to the mountains this fall?

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Chuck Liddy/News & Observer
Two hikers enjoy the spectacular fall color along the Blue Ridge Parkway on the Tanawha Trail near Grandfather Mountain, N.C. in 2016.

As always, fall will paint western North Carolina trees with a display of colorful leaves. But after a wet and warm year, when can visitors expect the transition?

Usually, trees in the mountains start to transform at the end of September, though most show fall colors later on, according to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

“The majority of trees typically change color during the month of October, starting early in the month on the highest peaks and progressing down the mountainsides into the lower elevations as the month passes,” the parkway’s website says.

And the natural display ramps up until peak time, which can be mid-October to early November, according to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

What about this year?

This year, the peak for fall colors should come “right on time,” Howard Neufeld, a plant eco-physiology professor at Appalachain State University, told the Citizen-Times.

But what about all the rain and high temperatures that hit North Carolina this year?

Average temperatures in Asheville were hotter than usual for all months except March, the National Weather Service says. The city so far has seen nearly 42 inches of precipitation, about 8 inches more than normal, data shows.

Precipitation became “closer to normal” later this summer and will stay that way, foliage expert Beverly Collins said last month in a news release. The Western Carolina University biology professor also says the next few weeks will be warmer than average.

“This forecast is closer to our historical weather, although a bit warmer than past years, and if the forecast holds, we should have our typical bright colors this year,” she said in the release.

She expects a “vibrant” display with timing that’s dependent upon elevation, daylight and temperatures, according to the university. Storms could also blow off leaves earlier than expected, Collins said.

Early color changes have already started, according to the Blue Ridge Mountain Life website.

For those wanting to get take a peak at current conditions, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has cameras at both high and low elevations. The landscapes were still dotted with green trees as of Thursday, according to online photos.

There’s also a week-by-week online prediction map, which shows this year’s peak foliage could be close to Nov. 2, according to the tool from smokymountains.com.

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