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If the current long-range weather forecast of close-to-normal weather conditions pans out, the mountains of Western North Carolina should produce a typically bright display of fall leaf color this year – enough to satisfy both the region’s residents and the thousands of visitors who travel in for nature’s annual show.

That’s the word from Beverly Collins, Western Carolina University’s autumnal analyzer and fall color calculator. A professor of biology at WCU, Collins combines her knowledge of forest ecology with observations of weather trends to assess the potential for a strong leaf color season.

“After having unusually warm and wet conditions in the mountains from spring through mid-summer, precipitation returned closer to normal in late July,” Collins said. “The long-term forecast that extends through October is for average precipitation and warmer-than-normal temperatures. This forecast is closer to our historical weather, although a bit warmer than past years, and if the forecast holds, we should have our typical bright colors this year.”

Leaf fanatics want to know when the color will be at its peak. Chief among the factors that affect that timing is the declining daylight of fall, when sunrise comes later and sunset happens earlier as the angle of the sun sinks toward the south, Collins said. In the WNC mountains, some color can begin to appear in early September as that lessening light cues the appearance of color in species such as sumac and sourwood, she said.

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Originally published Aug 28, 2019.