NORTH CAROLINA (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – It’s the biggest tourism boom in the Carolinas; fall color brings leaf peepers from all across the southeast into the Tar Heel State.
Experts say the maples this year were the reddest they’ve seen! Cooler temperatures setting in sooner made for an excellent fall color season amid concerns of stifling color from a warming climate.
“Oh, they’re beautiful! Just the reds, the yellows, it’s gorgeous. Recommend it to everybody,” every year, stunning fall colors bring tourists flocking to the Carolinas.
Braving the conditions just for a glimpse, “very windy and cold today…we really found out why it’s called Blowing Rock,” one tourist laughs through the shivers.
The cold is a sign that the change is not only coming but is as vibrant as can be.
“It was a spectacular fall color season,” said Dr. Howard Neufeld, an App State plant eco-physiologist. “It still is in some parts if you’re at the lower elevations.”
To the leaf peepers, he’s known as the fall color guy who’s been monitoring the Carolinas color for 15 years.
“Perfect color is cool temperatures, cool nights, and sunny days,” Dr. Neufeld explained. “And then you get the brightest yellows and oranges, especially the brightest reds.”
This year, we got the perfect recipe; it started getting cooler earlier. Our last 90-degree day in Charlotte was Sept. 22nd.
“People are saying it was early this year, but it’s actually on time, if you look at all the historical timing. It’s just that all the other years were late,” said Dr. Neufeld.
The last few years, the upper 80s have lingered well into Oct.; he added, “it does seem to point out, when it gets warm, you can expect a later fall color season.”
Warm is becoming the norm in the Carolinas. We’ve added five more warm fall days to the peaks of Asheville since 1970, putting a 1.5-degree fever on the fall color season.
Rain, temperature, and sunlight are all triggers to the change, but some species rely on some cues more than others.
“Some trees cue in on day length, so I think they’re sensing the shortening of the days, and no matter what it does, they just start turning. Whereas trees like maples, they cue in on both day length and really focus on temperature,” explained Dr. Neufeld.
As fall loses its cool cues for the trees, the color season can be shortened, delayed, and mistimed.
“So if you have a warm year, those trees focusing on day length do their thing at the same time no matter what,” Dr. Neufeld added. “But the ones that are focusing on temperature, they’re delayed, and then you spread out the color season instead of everything coming at one time.”
And in tourism, timing is everything.
One tourist from Myrtle Beach said, “We timed it like at the beginning of the year; we’ve had it planned for a while.”
Fall color season is Carolina’s biggest tourist boom.
“The hotels get filled up, and you have to make your reservations way in advance. I get people asking me in June when it’s going to be peak fall color,” laughed Dr. Neufeld.
Dr. Neufeld ranks this year’s grade A color towards the top, “9…9 or 10…I don’t think it can get better than this year!” And that means a colorful economic boom in the Carolinas; tourists tell us, “it’s a beautiful part of North Carolina, so nice to be here!”