Winter weather might interrupt Carolinas leaf show

The public relations department at Grandfather Mountain wrote this week that the North Carolina high country resort is beginning to think about winter.

Nature will hurry that process this weekend, as an unusually strong low pressure system and unseasonably cold temperatures combine to bring a very early snowstorm to the mountains.

Carolinas residents planning on a leaf-viewing trip, especially Saturday, might consider postponing it a day. Several inches of snow could accumulate above 3,500 feet, although most of the trees at that altitude are already bare.

Observers say the best colors this week are between 2,000 and 3,000 feet, which puts Asheville and the Chimney Rock areas in the spotlight. However, snow could fall at those altitudes Saturday, so you’re best to reschedule any trips into the high country until Sunday.

Then again, you might not have to go that far. Reports indicate leaf colors are nearing 50 percent of peak conditions in some Piedmont locations, and with cold weather coming, the color show is likely to accelerate rapidly closer to Charlotte.

Here is the Observer’s sixth weekly leaf report of the season:

Northwest N.C. mountains: It’s past peak conditions around Boone and on most of the Blue Ridge Parkway, but nice colors are being reported on the parkway north of U.S. 421. The oaks are a great shade of red this weekend.

Also consider trying U.S. 221 and N.C. 181 in Avery County, at the lower elevations.

Asheville and Western N.C. mountains: This is the time to check out Asheville, where near-peak conditions are being reported. The hills around town are showing spectacular colors – provided Saturday’s winds and heavy wet snow don’t knock down the leaves.

In the Smokies, the best conditions are reported along N.C. 28 in Swain County, near Fontana Lake; and on U.S. 25-70 near Hot Springs.

Southern N.C. foothills: Chimney Rock’s hickory trees are a beautiful shade of yellow, and the maples are producing vivid colors. Near-peak conditions also are being reported in the Hendersonville area and near Lake Lure.

Northern N.C. foothills: Burke County officials report peak conditions at Lake James and South Mountain state parks, and in the lower areas of Pisgah National Forest. The one possible problem is Saturday’s weather. Strong winds and wet snow could knock down many of the leaves. Colors are near 50 percent in Catawba and Caldwell counties, too.

Piedmont: Near the Virginia border, peak conditions are reported at Pilot Mountain State Park. Observer Karen Rice-Holder reports plenty of reds, oranges and yellows. It’s also a good time to check out Falls Lake and Kerr Lake state recreation areas, toward Raleigh.

Closer to home, park ranger Michael Walker reports the color change is well underway at Lake Norman State Park. Observers say conditions are 40 to 60 percent changed at Morrow Mountain State Park near Albemarle and in the Uwharrie National Forest.

Crowders Mountain State Park is between 50 and 70 percent changed. The upcoming cold snap will make next week a great time to go leaf-watching in the Piedmont.

South Carolina: The color show is nearing peak conditions in the foothills north of Gaffney and Spartanburg. State park officials say the next seven days should produce peak conditions in the Upstate southwest of Charlotte.

Southeast: This might be the final weekend for vivid colors along much of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. Eastern Tennessee also is at peak color conditions. It’s past the peak in southwest Virginia and West Virginia, observers said.

Weather forecast: Windy and wet conditions are forecast Saturday, with temperatures in the 30s and 40s. Snow is likely above 3,000 feet. Sunday should be much better, with sunny skies. But temperatures will still be cold, ranging from the upper 30s in the mountains to the low 50s in the Piedmont.