Post-Zeta update from our resident leaf expert: “No doubt we lost a lot of the bright colors that had developed up to now. Mid level 2500-1500 or so still holding some color and occasionally you find some really good color. I think we took a step backwards by a week at least due to the storm but the good news is there is still plenty of foliage in transition and still plenty green so we should still see more color development in the coming days to the next 2-3 weeks. We lost a little ground but there is still color to be found and more developing.”
Northwest GA (Ridge and Valley/Cumberland Plateau):
Over the past week, color change in elevations above 2000 feet has reached its peak. Many of the trees previously displaying the most vivid reds and yellows above 2,000 ft. have lost their leaves. Lower elevations are still showing vivid colors. Hickory and poplar account for most of the yellows, whereas blackgum, sourwood, and maple account for a large percentage of the reds.
Even though high elevations aren’t displaying the same vivid colors they were last week, the overlooks exhibit more overall color now than they have all year. Overlooks and ridges are predominantly composed of a mix of dull reds, golds, and yellows. Last week, the same views showed a larger percentage of green, with patches of vivid yellow and red.
Lower elevations can be expected to peak next week. Overall, total color change is around 50% but ranges up to 100% as elevation increases.
- Dogwood – vivid red is beginning to dull and shedding leaves
- Birch – slowly fading to brown and yellow
- Yellow-poplar – shifting to bright yellow
- Redbud – fading to yellow
- Sourwood – vivid and deep reds
- Sumac – bright red
- Maple – dull reds
- Birch – fading to yellow with brown edges
- Oak – green slowly fading to brown and yellow
- Blackgum – shifting to orange and red
- Sassafras – shows a variety of yellow, orange, and red
- Sweetgum – fading to red and yellow
- Hickory – fading to yellow
Estimated percentage of color change from green to date: 50% to 100% at higher elevation
The forecast shows large amounts of rain which could negatively impact leaf retention.
Suggested scenic NW drive: From I-75, take Hwy 136 to the top of Lookout Mountain. Turn right onto Hwy 189 (or continue on 136 and turn right to go to Cloudland Canyon). Follow Hwy 189 to Sunset Rock, Point Park, or Rock City. Drop down into Chattanooga via Ochs Hwy / 58. Then take Hwy 193 back to Hwy 136.
The future of our 2020 color season will be in the hands of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Zeta. The greatest potential for impact from winds will be the ridges and the gaps that will tend to funnel winds through them. While we potentially will see loss of color already developed, the lower elevations are just beginning to change and there’s a significant percentage of canopy with green foliage, offering an opportunity for continued fall color.
The highest elevations may have already peaked, though we are currently getting some good bronze development in oaks. Areas in the 1500-2500’ elevation range are seeing some good continuation of color. Hickory have become much more prevalent with golden yellows now common. Understory and roadside sassafras are offering nice yellows, reds, and oranges. Many early-changing birches continue to hold some good yellows, and there are still early-changing maples, sourwoods, black gum, dogwood and sumac that are holding bright and deep reds.
- Dogwood – Red / Burgundy
- Birch – Yellow
- Yellow-poplar – Yellow/Gold… most of the early turners have dropped leaves but still some yellow poplar to develop yet.
- Redbud – becoming more prominent with yellows
- Sourwood – Red / Burgundy…seeing more pinks this week also.
- Sumac – Bright Reds
- Maple – Muted to Bright Reds…and now seeing yellows added to the maple mix.
- Beech- starting to see changes to yellow.
- Oak – Above 3000’ early turners now a golden bronze. Below 3000’ a mixture of deep reds and yellows developing.
- Blackgum – Showing some good reds/increasing in color. Some loss of early turners but still adding to the reds.
- Sassafras – in full swing with yellows, reds, and oranges.
- Hickory – golden yellows very prominent.
Estimated percentage of color change from green to date: 80% + above 3000’; 30% – 70% below 3000’.
Entering peak across the region now. Movement of peak will be in upper latitudes southward and 3000’ to lower elevations. Highest elevations just beyond peak.
Storm Zeta represents a significant threat to a colorful conclusion of this year’s leaf season. Heavy rain and tropical force winds threaten to severely thin out the canopies through Thursday.
With a variety of conditions across the region developing, the best way to see the most color is to pick routes that provide change in elevation. Be aware of possible flooded crossings or high water fords.
Drives that go over mountains or through the major gaps include:
- GA 52 from Ellijay to Chatsworth; GA 136 from Dawsonville to Jasper/Talking Rock;
- the Richard Russel Scenic Highway/GA 348 (Hog Pen Gap);
- GA 17/75 between Helen and Hiawassee (Unicoi Gap);
- GA 60 from Dahlonega to Suches and then Morganton (Woody Gap);
- GA 180 from Suches to Vogel State Park (Wolf Pen Gap);
- and US 76 from Clayton to Hiawassee (Dicks Creek Gap).