Fall leaf season approaching in Great Smokies
By Joel Davis | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
With fall weather ahead, minds turn to the expected October advent of leaf color season in the Smokies.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a favored destination for viewing fall colors, said Park spokeswoman Molly Schroer. “GSMNP is home to more than 100 native species of trees, which makes it wonderful place to view autumn colors.”
The eternal question concerning fall leaf color is “When will it happen?” The equally eternal answer is “Good question.”
According to Park officials, the typical peak of fall leaf color at the lower elevations, Cades Cove and Townsend, is between the third week of October and the first week of November.
“The timing of the change depends on variables that make it impossible to predict the peak color more than a few days in advance,” Schroer said.
From early to mid-October, fall colors develop above 4,000 feet. The peak of the leaf color season is usually the last week of October or the first week of November. It is the weather during mid-October that determines the intensity of fall color season.
Wayne Clatterbuck, professor of forestry at the University of Tennessee, said that he expects leaf season to fall within the normal time frame.
“I’m fairly optimistic that we’re going to have a good leaf season, but I don’t think it’s going to be particularly early,” he said. “... There are three factors that really going into it. Day length is a constant thing. That’s the same year after year. The other two factors are moisture and temperatures. When we’ve been really, really dry, moisture comes into it, but we’ve had pretty much adequate moisture. I don’t think that’s much of a factor this year. Temperature is really difficult to predict in advance.”
The optimum conditions for good leaf color are nighttime temperatures into the 40s but not lower. “If it freezes, the leaves just turn brown,” Clatterbuck said.
Whatever yearly fluctuations may occur in the timing or intensity, viewing autumn colors in the Smokies is always worthwhile, Schroer said. “There isn’t a bad autumn here.”
Large numbers of sightseers generally descend upon the Smokies during the last three weeks of October. Cades Cove and Newfound Gap Road generally experience the longest traffic delays during this time, according to the Park website.