Want to know when & where to see the best colors of autumn? Appalachian State University has your North Carolina fall color map

Published annually by the Boone, N.C., university’s Department of Biology – specifically by professors Howard Neufeld and Michael Denslow – the 2015 map has a few additional enhancements: it plots specific towns and roads and paints around them the estimated best time to experience the full palette of fall colors.

“This map differs from most other such maps because it combines the effects of both elevation and latitude on fall color, whereas most other maps simply use elevation alone,” explained the App State profs.

North Carolina Fall Colors Map 2015

“We constructed the map using the following assumptions,” they continue. “First, we assumed that fall color would start earlier at higher elevations. We then figured (guessed!) that for each 1,000′ increase in elevation, peak fall colors would occur about one week earlier, with the exception of those areas near the coast, where we divided the elevation into 500′ sections.”

But elevation alone doesn’t necessarily account for the movable feast that is fall foliage. The map also accounts for latitudinal increments

“For the latitude effect, we used data from published papers suggesting that each degree of latitude north is equivalent to going up in elevation by about 200 m (656′),” post the professors. “This means that if you were to compare 3,000′ down in Murphy with 3,000′ in northern Ashe County (which are about 2.5 degrees apart), it would be as if you were really at 4,640′ in Ashe County, at least fall color peak-wise. In other words, the same elevation in the north is cooler than the same elevation in the south, which causes the vegetation to differ. The resultant cooler temperatures mean that peak fall colors will come earlier to those same elevations in the north than in the south.”

Got that? Good. With this map one can easily help visitors guess the best spots to see the brightest colors at the peak times. But even with the scientific approach, Neufeld and Denslow admit it is at best an estimated guess because, as we all know, Mother Nature has the final say.

Western North Carolina fall foliage.

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