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It’s time for NC’s leaves to change colors. Some higher areas are starting to peak.

The fall color map for western North Carolina produced by the Department of Biology at Appalachian State University.
The fall color map for western North Carolina produced by the Department of Biology at Appalachian State University. APPALACHIAN STATE UNIVERSITY

The fall color-shifting spectacle is underway in Western North Carolina, with leaves in some of the highest elevations reportedly showing brilliant hues this week.

The good news for leaf enthusiasts is that the end is weeks away, in early November. In most places, the season has yet to truly begin.

Recent warm weather has pumped the brakes on some of the transition, according to RomanticAsheville.com, which on Tuesday reported the best color now is to be found in the area of Grandfather Mountain.

“The Craggy Gardens summits and popular Graveyard Fields are past peak due to (Hurricane) Irma’s high winds taking down so many leaves, but valley views are green,” the report said.

Blue Ridge Mountain Life on Monday surmised that high elevations are about a week early in the transition process and should peak late this week into early next week.

But the forecast said “warmer temperatures this week have slowed down the progression at lower elevations, and they will remain on track with our forecasted dates.”

Fall color forecasts are generally based off elevation – showing the color spreading from the highest points down the mountains – with some variation based on weather.

A forecast map developed in the Appalachian State University biology department in 2009 reflects the elevation factor and assumes variation for climate and anomalies. Unlike most other maps, it also takes into account latitude.

The general elevation rule followed by forecasters is that for every 1,000-foot decrease in elevation, the color change occurs a week later. The university project considered published work suggesting every degree of latitude north is the same as going up by about 200 meters in elevation.

“In other words, the same elevation in the north is cooler than the same elevation in the south, which causes the vegetation to differ,” explained Dr. Howard Neufeld, whose lab focuses on physiological plant ecology. “The resultant cooler temperatures mean that peak fall colors will come earlier to those same elevations in the north than in the south.”

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