Fall colors expected to peak in early November, but likely won't be as vibrant

Jonathan Roberts • Oct 13, 2019 at 9:15 PM

As many eagerly await the return of East Tennessee’s fall colors, they may be left disappointed this year.

“I don’t think we’re going to see real good fall color,” said Patrick Walding, the city forester for Johnson City. “The drought has already caused trees to kind of yellow, and they’re prematurely dropping leaves.”

Typically, East Tennessee sees its fall colors peak around mid-October — often leading to a rise in tourism as people flock to see the Smoky Mountains turn into a stunning combination of reds, yellows and oranges. This year, however, that may not be the case as the leaves aren’t expected to reach their peak colors for another two or three weeks.

“Fall is arguably among our top seasons when it comes to visitation,” said Alicia Phelps, executive director for the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association. “During the past couple of years, leaves in Northeast Tennessee have peaked later in the season, and we expect the same to happen this year based on weather patterns, with early November showing the largest amount of fall colors.”

Phelps says the region “could possibly see a decrease in daytrippers” if the foliage isn’t as vivacious as normal, but that “for the most part” people will continue to come, “with hopes they picked the right time for fall foliage.”

Current estimates from the Smoky Mountains’ Fall Foliage Prediction Map show Northeast Tennessee’s fall colors peaking around Nov. 2-9, but even at their peak, the colors the region has come to know and love may not be as vibrant this season.

“(Drought), in most trees, tends to cause them to lose most of their vibrance and colors because of the very warm and dry temperatures,” said David Jennings, a climatologist at East Tennessee State University. “The (warmer) temperatures seem to be the most important factor, as it tends to cause them to crumple up and fall off with no color at all.”

Walding agrees, saying that when trees are drought-stressed, “they pretty much shut down.”

“They just drop leaves early,” he said. “There’s several trees around town that have no leaves on them right now — they look dead.”

Because of the shift in the amount of daylight trees get during the fall compared to the spring and summer, they’ll always start dropping their leaves around the same time, but their colors are dependent on cooler weather, something the region has seen little of as of late.

Historically, the Tri-Cities’ average October temperature is just over 59 degrees, with the average high and low sitting at 69.2 degrees and 43.4 degrees, respectively. This year, however, the average temperature is nearly 75 degrees, with a blistering average high sitting at 88.3 degrees. The region’s average low is 60.6 degrees — a far cry from the temperatures needed to ensure brilliant fall colors. 

All is not lost, however, so long as the weather begins to cooperate, and it seems like it might. 

Over the next two weeks, temperatures are expected to return to a somewhat normal state, but the region is still looking at several days with highs near 80 degrees and lows near 60 degrees, according to The Weather Channel. And though early November might seem like a long way, slowly but surely you can see a handful of tress beginning to embrace the fall colors that make Tennessee one of the best states to see fall foliage.   

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