Fall foliage in East Tennessee: When it peaks and what causes the leaves to change color


Every year, tourists flock to the Smokies to see the leaves change color. So when can we expect peak fall foliage this year? This week, Northeast Tennessee and the highest elevations of the Smokies are still seeing minimal color change.

When will the fall colors peak?

By October 5th – October 12th the spine of the Smokies should begin to see peak colors. This is mainly for elevations above 4,000 feet. By October 12th – October 19th, most of the Smokies should see peak color change. About a week later, the Plateau will see the brightest colors, while the Valley (including Knoxville) will likely see peak colors the last week of October into the first week of November.

How does the weather affect fall foliage?

The weather can affect the intensity of the colors we see each fall season. Temperature, light and water supply all play a role in the color change (SUNY ESF). Rainy and overcast days tend to increase the intensity of fall colors (SUNY ESF). Meanwhile an early frost can greatly diminish the length of time leaves stay bright red in color (SUNY ESF).

What causes leaves to change color?

Leaves change color because of chemical processes that happen inside the tree. During the summer, production of chlorophyll causes the leaves to be green in color (SUNY ESF). During the fall, this production stops and so the other colors found in leaves (reds, oranges and yellows) become more apparent (SUNY ESF).

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