Warm, wet late summer could delay Carolinas annual leaf show

Leaves on some red and sugar maple trees in higher elevations near Boone are a vivid red this week, but don’t jump in your car and head to the mountains for a super early leaf show.

Experts say those maple colors are isolated and an exception to the rule. The real show in the Carolinas is at least a month away.

And if meteorologists’ long-range forecasts pan out, the changing of the leaves could come later than usual this fall and without some of the flair we’ve come to expect.

Howie Neufeld, an Appalachian State University biology professor who has become known as the Fall Color Guy because of his expertise on the subject, reported last week that a few maple trees are showing red in higher elevations.

“It’s not clear why these trees turn so early,” Neufeld said in his weekly report.

Was it due to the cooler-than-average weather in July? “I don’t think too much,” Neufeld said.

He said the big show will arrive in October in the mountains, and Neufeld’s theory is that weather in August and September plays a big role in the timing and intensity. He said sunny and relatively cool conditions in late summer bring vivid colors on time – which is early October in the highest elevations and early November in the Piedmont.

But if the late-summer period is warm and wet, the color changes come later and are more muted, Neufeld said.

A number of other recent studies by biologists point the same way.

If that’s the case, you might want to consider scheduling your leaf-viewing trips a bit later than usual this year.

The government’s Climate Prediction Center forecasts above-average temperatures for September, October and November. Government forecasters say there’s an equal chance of above- or below-average rainfall.

AccuWeather, the Pennsylvania-based commercial meteorology company, is predicting a warm, wet autumn in the Southeast.

Typically, the best mountain colors are from around Oct. 10 to Oct. 25. Piedmont colors tend to reach their peak in early November, but colors can last into mid- or even late November some years.