As signs of fall start to show in the Smokies, signs point to beautiful color and bountiful food for the local wildlife in the Great Smoky Mountains.
While fall color on the leaves is a huge attraction for people coming to the Great Smoky Mountains, a good mast crop of acorns and other nuts is crucial to wildlife in the Smokies. This year it looks as though the Great Smoky Mountains may have one of the highest yield mast crops in a very long time. On years where the mast crop is so good, the fall color tends to be brighter and last longer as long as there are no violent last minute storms to blow down the leaves.
While the first part of our fall season ushered in by the breaking of summer heat and the ripening of apples, walnuts, pawpaw, acorns and persimmons was generally dry and with seasonably comfortable temperatures, just as the acorns peak ripening ended we got a quick cold snap along with a few days of gentle soaking rain.
These cooling temperatures as well as the light soaking rain with moderate winds were enough to blow some of the early turned leaves such as in the sycamore trees which never have great color to the ground, but will hydrate the other leaves so they have a potential to stay longer in the trees and more slowly lose their green revealing much more brilliant colors that will last far longer than usual.
Based open visits have taken in the past few days to various parts of the Smokies including Newfound Gap, Elkmont, Cosby, Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Balsam Mountain, Greenbrier, Smokemont, Bryson City, Maggie Valley, Cherokee and along the Blue Ridge Parkway from Mile Marker 380 to 469, it is clear that the start of the 2014 leaf season will by October 12th along the higher elevations with southern exposure.
The first peak fall color leaf season in the Smokies for 2014 along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Balsam mountains higher elevations given present weather and plant conditions will run from October 12th through the 17th with some decent color in North Carolina and deciduous trees along higher points along Tennessee into the 25th.
Lower elevations in Tennessee such as around Cades Cove near Townsend, the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail near Gatlinburg, Cosby, Elkmont, Greenbrier, Tremont and Big Creek will be most brilliant from the 17th all the way to the 28th of October as long as the weather cooperates. After the main peak there is usually still nice color mostly deep reds and maroons in the hardwoods until the first week in November Lower down in the valleys such as Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Wears Valley.
They key is as long as the weather keeps its current pace of wet and dry and the temperature gradually keep falling as they are doing right now, you can easily extend these dates another 4-5 days. In 2005 we had very decent fall color in the hardwoods of Tennessee as late as the second week in November with leaves in some trees the week of Thanksgiving.
As weather becomes more unpredictable and has more dramatic swings between hot and cold, and wet or dry, predicting fall color quality and peak dates as weeks as wildflower peaks have become harder and harder, however unless something dramatic happens, this looks to be an exceptionally great year for fall color and longevity of the autumn leaves in peak.
Note: These 2014 fall peak color predictions are based upon 23 years of historical data correlating temperature, moisture and fruiting density of local plants to leaf color brightness, timing and duration.