Fall Foliage Prediction after Florence


RENEE SEXTON (South Carolina Radio Network): After Hurricane Irma cut the fall foliage season short in South Carolina last year, Clemson forest ecologist Donald Hagan said it won’t be the same fate after Hurricane Florence last month. The assistant professor in Clemson’s department of forestry and environmental conservation has been making fall foliage predictions at Clemson University for six years.

“We really dodged a bullet with Hurricane Florence,” he said. “Didn’t seem to knock off a whole lot of leaves off the trees. We did see some of that last year with Hurricane Irma because those little bit of drought conditions that we had last year, the leaves were already turning. They were already loose. They were already starting to fall off and that wind from Irma hit and blew them off. Fortunately, we’re not seeing that his year.”

Hagan said the species of trees in the landscape contributes to the variety of fall colors. Each species has its own leaf color. “The more species that you have present the more diverse that palate of colors that you might see at a given point in time is going to be,” he said.

Hagan said the weather will determine when the leaves reach their most colorful peak. “If we have a warm fall, like it seems like we’re going to have, we could potentially have a later start to our fall color season and a longer color season,” Hagan said, adding the weather also affects the vibrancy of the leaf color.  “I think the biggest factor that indicates the quality of the fall color season is the weather that you get mid-September through mid-October,” he said. “So what you really want to see, as we transition into fall, is this nice succession of mild cold fronts.”

For those of you who like to travel to the mountains to see the fall colors, Hagan offered some advice:  “Keep an eye on the weather,” he said. “If you can time your trip to a day or two after a cold front, that would be good because after a cold front comes through that triggers the chemical reaction in the leaves. You start seeing that more-rapid color development.”

Hagan said if you are traveling to the mountains, aim high for the best color early. He said leaves start changing first in trees in the elevations above 4500 feet.

“It’s better to be early than late,” he said. “Fall color tends to build slowly and then crash.”

Check out Dr. Hagen's YouTube video on the fall colors.