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When will peak fall color hit? Use this foliage tracker map to find out

View of the mountains from Waterrock Knob Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The changing colors at Waterrock Knob Overlook. This photo was taken on September 30, 2023.
Lilly Knoepp
View of the mountains from Waterrock Knob Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

For thousands of people who drive on mountain roads every fall, the shifting color of changing leaves is a tapestry of wonder. For one recent UNC Asheville graduate, the blanket of leaves is more than a stunning site—it is a science.

"So over the past several years, I've really gotten heavily involved in fall foliage forecasting and monitoring fell in love with it," Evan Fisher, an atmospheric science major, said.

Fisher tracks leaves the same way that a meteorologist tracks storms, and he has a very specific seasonal pet peeve: bad leaf forecasting.

“Fall foliage time is never consistent across one single county but most sources do try to make it consistent and this is a poor poor method," he said.

Fisher realized he could use the data analytics methods that he was learning in school to create a model for when fall leaves would change to the reds, yellows and oranges that make the season such a beautiful draw for locals and tourists alike.

"As I got more into the meteorology side of things and acquired a few technical skills. I realized that I could use these skills to help more people find the same color that I was getting to sniff out, you know on a each fall," he said.

Fisher just started a graduate program at NC State University for Geospatial Information Science and Technology.

He shares his tracking with other foliage watchers. He and his colleagues created Explore Fall.com, a national tracker to tell visitors and community members when and where to find the best colors.

The model, which updates daily at midnight, uses gridded temperature, precipitation, and daylight data to assess the stages of foliage across the country.

A map from ExploreFall.com shows the foliage forecast.
A map from ExploreFall.com shows the foliage forecast.

The current forecast, according to Fisher, shows peak color at the highest points in the region later this week and early next week with lower elevations soon to follow.

  • Most high elevations will peak October 5 to 12.
  • Middle elevations like the Blue Ridge Parkway will hit peak color after October 10 to 20.
  • Lower elevation valleys such as around Asheville, Hendersonville and Sylva will be most colorful in late October.
  • There are exceptions for fall color due to weather conditions and other factors such as distance to a body of water, Fisher explained.

Peak color timing has changed, Fisher says. In his research, leaves used to start to change earlier in the season. He said that in 2022 for the first time in about 8 years, there was an early peak and brilliant fall colors. However, overall, the fall colors have been happening later over the last 30 years.
“That data does suggest that we're seeing later and later peaks, going back to 1991, we've seen at least seven-day change - if not more in the average timing of peak fall color across Western North Carolina,” Fisher said.

“Those trees think that they should be keeping their leaves longer than they actually should they're being fooled into imagining and thinking that it's still the growing season and in reality that's it's not they need to be dropping their leaves and preparing for winter. That's just not great for fall color,” he said.

Explore Fall launched on September 1 and had a few hundred visitors in its first weeks. Fisher says the site now reaches thousands each day including people from as far west as Colorado where peak fall foliage is already unfolding.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.