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Showers to bring vibrant fall in western N.C.

By Elisabeth Arriero
earriero@charlotteobserver.com

Unusually high rain levels in the Charlotte region this summer may result in even more brilliant fall colors.

“The colors during the fall season depend upon the temperatures and the moisture level,” James Oh, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said.

According to an AccuWeather report, the best weather for vibrant fall foliage is a lot of moisture during the growing season, followed by a cool, sunny and dry autumn in which there is no overnight frost. In contrast, drought during the growing season causes leaves to drop before they have a chance to change color.

Leaves change color because they’re shutting down photosynthesis, the process of making food for the trees. While photosynthesis is in full swing, the production of green chlorophyll masks other colors. But as photosynthesis shuts down, production of other pigments increases, and the colors in the leaves become more visible.

During the month of June, Charlotte received 7.31 inches of rain, 3.57 more inches than the normal rainfall for that month. In July, the region saw 7.46 inches of rain, which is 3.78 inches above normal.

North Carolina’s foliage season starts in the high mountain areas in October and runs through mid-November, with colors appearing at lower elevations throughout the month.

Oh noted another benefit to the especially rainy summer: It has pulled the region out of a years-long drought. In 2012, for instance, total rainfall was 33.69 inches, compared with the average of 41.63.

“The wet weather has helped the prolonged drought season,” he said, noting that even reservoirs and creeks in the area have returned to normal or above-normal water levels.

Oh said that even more rain is headed to the area this week, beginning on Tuesday and continuing through the weekend.

An unstable air mass will form in the area, contributing to widespread thunderstorms, he said.

“The wet weather returns for this coming week,” he said.

Arriero: 704-358-5945; Twitter: @earriero
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