(WGHP) — October is a transition month for weather, and it just so happens to be a beautiful month, too. Our mountains are extreme for both.

When will leaves change?

It all gets started with cooler days and nights and less sunlight. This combination starts the leaf color change. Recent rainfall and even seasonal rainfall along with temperatures have an impact on our leaf season. Some start up a week earlier or later, and some years look more vivid than others. 

No one really knows until it gets underway.  

This year, early reports indicate we are running a few days behind schedule. However, the recent cool spells will likely cause the pace to pick up for color change. The best years have a lot of reds in the trees. So far, I have seen some in photos and reports but not high amounts yet.

It always starts up top above 5,000 feet before Oct. 10. By Oct 17, the peak color is usually near 4,000 feet. By Oct. 23, it is down to around 3,000 feet, and by Oct 29., it is down to around 2,000 feet. 

We have a wide variety of elevations in our mountains, so you can drive and find good colors for weeks. By the end of October, we usually have great color in our backyard near Pilot Mountain and Hanging Rock. 

Some years, it can come a few days earlier if the moisture and temperatures are right. 

Here in the Triad, usually near Halloween and early November, we have our best color. It is also usually nice on the Uwharrie Hills, which are ancient, eroded mountains of Davidson, Randolph, Montgomery and Stanly Counties, where tops are just over 1,000 feet.

When will the mountains see snow?

During this period, the weather begins to change dramatically, too. Here in the Piedmont, we go from 56/76 on Oct. 1 to 43/66 on Nov. 1 to 35/55 on Dec. 1. It’s a more than 20-degree cool down over just two months.

In the mountains, the cool-down is noticed most of all. The temperature goes from 49/68 on Oct. 1 to 35/58 on Nov. 1 and 26/47 on Dec. 1.

The mountains usually start getting reports of snow on the highest elevations—above 5,000 feet—by mid-October. By mid-November, we start getting reports of snow down near 3,000 feet.

This cool down in the mountains leads to the start of the ski season in the high country. We generally think of the temperature difference between the Triad in the mountains as being about 8 to 10 degrees colder up there.   

But that is when comparing us to the 3,500-foot level which is close to Boone, Blowing Rock and Banner Elk. 

The ski resorts are a little higher. Some of them are around 5,000 feet. That makes these areas about 15 degrees colder on average, and sometimes even more.

Given the cold mountain temperatures, ski season often gets underway many years by Thanksgiving.

Here is a list of the average opening date for nearby ski resorts:

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  • Sugar Mountain — Nov. 14 over the past nine years
  • Appalachian Mountain — Nov. 24 over the past nine years
  • Ski Beech — Nov. 29 over the past seven years

Ski Beech records only go back to 2016/2017. and the other two listed go back to 2014/15. 

During those winters, the season started early. If that data was available for Ski Beech, their average would likely be earlier. Given their high elevation, it should be one of the earliest.

So if you are going to our mountains over the next six weeks, be sure to prepare for the cold and make sure you have good tires for potentially snow-covered roads.