The Smoky Mountains are getting much needed rain which may help prolong the 2008 peak leaf season but want be enough to turn dry wells and springs around.
2 years of heavy drought have the entire Smoky Mountains region worried about water with western North Carolina in the deepest trouble.
Hopefully the next few days rain in the Smoky Mountains will give us a deep enough soaking to revive some of the local crops such as corn which is experiencing drought related stress and the local deciduous trees can show off their fall colors when the foliage changes color for more than a quick flame out lasting a few days per tree.
The lack of moisture can actually improve the fall colors which have a very long season the Smoky Mountains given the various elevations, exposure to sunlight and as the fact that all of the more than 110 species of local hardwood and softwood deciduous trees all have a different peak period, color pallet and duration of staying on the trees.
Color has already stared mostly in higher elevations on the North Carolina side especially in the shaded hollows. Temperature, light and moisture are all catalysts which will change speed timing and duration of the color of the trees in the fall season.
The best time to catch the fall season depends on where you are planning to look for the fall foliage. For high country in North Carolina you will start winding down the 3rd and 4th week of October and low elevations in Tennessee the 3rd to 4th week in November the show of colors made by the hardwood leaves mostly flame reds are finishing.
Anytime in October you will find great colors in the Smoky Mountains, you may just have to drive up or down in elevation to find the best spot.
As for the thunderstorms with lightning we will be having in the Smoky Mountains for the next few days, in order to not become a statistic you should follow simple hiking safety guidelines for lightning:
Lighting is dangerous and should be respected. About 350 people a year are seriously injured by lightning in the United and 60 people lose their lives. Falling trees from strong winds associated with storms also claim lives and being in the woods where there are dead and weakened trees further increases your risk.
The best place to be when a thunderstorm rolls in would be indoors but being inside a car is usually safe as well.
Places you want to avoid during a thunderstorm would be:
- On a ridgeline or bald especially if you are the tallest object around
- In water such as a stream, lake or pool.
- Near tall trees. Trees can act as a giant conductor and when lightning hits a tree the sap boils and vaporizes exploding and sending wood splinter far and wide.
- Near wire fences, fire towers, power lines or any other conductor.
- Under rocks that act like an overhang as they can have a spark plug effect killing anyone underneath.
What you should do during a lightning storm:
- Stay as low as possible.
- Ditch the hiking poles and any conductive objects in your hands or on your persons. This includes jackets with metal zippers.
- Crotch low to the ground but have as little contact with the ground possible. Never lay flat on the ground!
- If you are in a group of people, spread out.
- Expect that any low lying areas during and after the storm may experience flash flooding. What looks like a safe place to hide may be a run off area that will fill with water faster than you can get out.
Lighting can strike without warning - often striking on the edges of a storm before there are any raindrops to be felt or when the rain has stopped.
You can tell how far a storm is away by counting the time from the flash to the sound of thunder since sound travels slower than light. For the speed that most people count, there is a 5 count per mile. Lightning safety experts say that you should take precautions and cover when lightning is within 30 seconds of you.
Be prepared as storms can come in fast and unexpectedly. I keep a dry bag normally used for canoeing in my backpack for cameras and electronics as well as Zip loc bags and 2 garbage bags just in case.
Even waterproof backpacks can get so soaked in minutes that everything inside still gets wet. When camping in the colder months all of my clothes are also packed in dry bags as being wet and cold could cause hypothermia. Even in the summer and especially at higher elevations there is always the danger of hypothermia in the Great Smoky Mountains national park.