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Fall color in North Carolina: the threat of climate change


The winding Blue Ridge Parkway is covered in a colorful canopy of trees, and tourists from all over the country flock to “peek” at the foliage at scenic spots such as the Cone Manor in Braun Rock, N.C.

“It just doesn’t seem real at all,” said Warner Gonzalez from Fayetteville. Warner Gonzalez, from Fayetteville, said, “We’ve waited all year to come here and see what it looks like today.

Crisp fall breezes and crunchy leaves mark the change of seasons and nature’s annual cue that winter is just around the corner.

Sandy Carlson came from Des Moines, Iowa, to see the fall colors.

“We just picked the perfect time because the leaves are so beautiful,” she said.

Howard Neufeld, a professor of biology at Appalachian State University, is widely known as a fall colorist.

For 17 years, Neufeld has been predicting when the peak of fall color will arrive.

“Leaves respond to two things,” Neufeld says, “a shorter day and a drop in fall temperatures.” Some trees respond more to the length of the day, while others respond more to the temperature.

According to Climate Central’s analysis, fall temperatures across the U.S. have risen an average of 2.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970.

Warmer fall weather delays the appearance of fall colors, making them appear darker.

“Warmer weather makes trees stay green longer in the fall,” Neufeld said.” That can delay the appearance of fall colors, making them appear darker.

Fall color in North Carolina: the threat of climate change

In some of the liveliest foliage areas in the U.S., such as western North Carolina, the colors are already appearing late.

According to a 19-year study, red maple leaf color is more than a month behind 2021.

Warmer weather throughout the year affects the timing of maple leaf changes, which makes Neufeld’s job of predicting the peak of the maple season each year more difficult.

“Climate change,” Neufeld said, “makes it more difficult to predict peak fall color.” In the past few years, peak fall color has become more erratic.

Climate-related delays in fall color can disrupt a tree’s growth and dormancy cycles, which can affect how well a tree survives, grows, and whether it stores carbon at the same rate.

Warmer climates in early spring can affect and cause trees to leaf out earlier.

In addition to temperature, other climatic factors, including pollution, rainfall (or lack thereof) and pests can also have an impact.

“These factors can also make fall colors less vibrant,” Neufeld said.

As it turns out, studying fall colors can have its own spectrum.

“Like anything in science, it’s not black and white, it’s gray, and it’s a lot more complicated than we first thought.

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