October 21, 2013

Fall leaf forecast — summer rain means ‘very good color’

By Mark Millican

— ELLIJAY — With a little luck weather-wise, the north Georgia mountains may exhibit more color than usual this fall because of the area’s abundant rainfall during the summer, one weather prognosticator speculates.

“The rain this summer was very helpful,” said Patrick Core, chief meteorologist with WDEF News 12 in Chattanooga. “We have not had too much leaf droppage like we have had off and on the last five to 10 years because of very hot and dry summers. So our foliage is very, very full — and that’s a good thing. That means there’s going to be more color.”

Gina Kertulis-Tartar, an associate professor of biology at Dalton State College who specializes in botany, explained the process.

“The colors are based on the loss of the green color in the leaf, so those pigments that come up orange, the yellows, the reds, the kind of purple colors, are always there,” she said. “But there’s always a lot of green pigment to chlorophyll that’s present, so as we get closer to fall what happens is as the days get shorter and it starts to get cooler, that signals to the plant to stop making that green pigment ... the plants measure the length of the night — and the nights are getting longer and cooler — and that’s the signal.”

Core said the drier weather in September, and thus far in October, won’t affect the colors.

“That’s not a harmful thing either because that’s going to give us some brighter color as the leaves start to turn,” he said. “You lose a little bit of that moisture content, yet the trees are plenty strong from this summer’s rain to where if we do not have any major storms in the next two to three weeks I see a very, very good season.”

Having grown up in Pennsylvania, Kertulis-Tartar said she learned from a family member recently that leaves have changed there already. She was asked if it seemed leaf change was coming later in the season in north Georgia the last few years.

“I’m used to an earlier fall than what we have here now, but it does seem a little bit later than what I would expect because where I grew up and here are just one growth zone different,” she replied.

Core believes the atmosphere is right for vibrant hues on the mountains if the weather just holds steady.

“Right now my thinking is that if everything holds together like it has been the last few weeks — and we just kinda get a little bit of rain here and there, we have these clear skies and cool nights and sunny warm afternoons — that usually gives us some very good color by the end of the month,” he said.