Fall Weather Week: Elevation and leaf color

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(WSPA) – 7Weather Chief Meteorologist Christy Henderson explains why elevation plays a key role in nature’s timetable when it comes to the changing colors.

In an average year the highest mountains see the colors changing by early October, with trees around the Upstate holding off until later in the month and even into November. In the mountains, the vibrant yellows, oranges and reds were delayed by almost a week thanks to a particularly rainy start to October this year.

In fact, Asheville picked up almost five inches for the month. So with the delay, visitors of the region found that they had to head to the higher hills for that saturated fall palette. No matter how full the rain gauge is, bright colors still show up, however. And that of course leads to a lot of pictures.

But still, many are left wondering why the higher elevations see a change in color first.

Warm days and cool nights help prepare trees for the winter, and that whole process begins in the higher elevation when the air is very dry and cools off at about five degrees for every one thousand feet in elevation. That gives the trees a head start on the color.

If you don’t make it to the mountains, you can rest assured that the color will spread down to the lower elevations and into the Upstate eventually. Fewer hours of daylight, and the cooler air that comes with it, means that no matter when you ‘leaf’, you’re bound to enjoy the season.

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