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Leaf color show spreads into N.C. foothills

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/25/11/40/UzuJ6.Em.138.jpeg|230
    JEFF WILLHELM - jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com
    Maples in Hickory catch the morning light Friday.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/25/11/40/14PyqX.Em.138.jpeg|474
    JEFF WILLHELM - jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com
    Maples lining 5th St. N.W. in Hickory show the beginnings of color Thursday evening as autumn creeps into the foothills.

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The jet stream has given the Carolinas’ fall leaf color show a jump start.

The intrusion of cold air this week will speed the process of leaf color change, after weeks in which some observers wondered whether the Carolinas’ trees would ever give up their green mantle this fall.

The cold air was accompanied by brisk winds, which probably blew down some of the color canopy, especially in the northwest mountains of North Carolina. But temperatures tumbling into the 20s and 30s across the region will turn the greens into yellows, oranges and reds in the Piedmont and foothills over the next week or so.

Observers report the color change already is rapidly under way in North Carolina’s foothills. Color changes also are being noted in some Piedmont locations, but the process will pick up rapidly after this weekend’s chilly conditions.

Northwest mountains: Landis Taylor, of Grandfather Mountain park, says the drive along N.C. 194 between Valle Crucis and Banner Elk is especially beautiful this week. Peak colors also are arriving in the Boone area, with spectacular yellows and reds in areas between 2,500 and 3,500 feet. The cold weather should hasten peak color development in the lower altitudes.

Lisa Crane of Mount Mitchell State Park says a predominant color late this week was white – as in snow. Most leaves are gone from trees above 5,000 feet in that area.

Asheville and west: The Blue Ridge Parkway area just northeast of Asheville is approaching its peak. Elevations around 3,000 feet are showing spectacular colors. Closer to Asheville, peak colors are still a week away, probably. But you’ll find nice displays of maples, birches and even shrubs at Biltmore.

Farther to the west, peak conditions have arrived above 4,000 feet in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and in the Pisgah National Forest areas. One good spot, according to Mark File of RomanticAsheville.com, is “Shadow of the Bear,” on U.S. 64 between Highlands and Cashiers. Between 5:30 and 6:15 p.m. in autumn, the mountains cast the shadow of a bear in the area.

Foothills: Areas in Burke, Caldwell and Rutherford counties are showing much more color this week. Ranger Kevin Bischof of Lake James State Park reports bright yellow poplar leaves, along with the reds of sumac, dogwood and sourwood.

At South Mountain State Park in Burke County, ranger Amada Lasley says peak conditions should arrive in the next week. Stone Mountain State Park should be near peak within the next three to five days.

And farther south at Chimney Rock State Park, Matt Popowski reports good color conditions around 2,500 feet. He says the area from Chimney Rock to Exclamation Point is a highlight this week. Good color also is being reported across higher elevations in Henderson and Polk counties.

Piedmont: Peak conditions are arriving at the areas north of Winston-Salem, such as Hanging Rock and Pilot Mountain. Reds and yellows are dotting the elevations above 2,000 feet, with the color change nearing 50 percent.

Farther to the south, the color changes are just beginning at places like Morrow Mountain State Park, Lake Norman State Park, and in the Uwharrie National Forest. Peak conditions probably won’t arrive until early November.

South Carolina: The color change is late this year, with peak conditions expected to arrive around Nov. 1 in the higher elevations of Cherokee and Spartanburg counties.

Elsewhere in Southeast: Virginia is the place to be this weekend. The southern part of the Shenandoahs are vivid with maroons, purples and yellows. The drive along Interstate 81 should be beautiful for the next several days. The area near Wytheville also is reaching peak.

In Tennessee, tourism officials report the Cumberland Plateau area “is ablaze” with color. The leaf change is about 50 percent near Knoxville.

Color changes are 25 to 50 percent in northeast Georgia, with peak conditions still a week away.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle
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