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Autumn colors beginning to show in Southeast

By Randall Dickerson

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 2 2012 10:05 a.m. MDT

A tree displays red leaves on Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, in Nashville, Tenn. As days get shorter and nights become chillier, the annual fall foliage show is getting under way in the Southern Appalachians.

Teresa Wasson, Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As days get shorter and nights become chillier, the annual fall foliage show is getting under way in the Southeast.

The first colors are beginning to show in the higher elevations of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is a popular draw for tourists in October.

Expect a good show, said Janet Rock, a botanist in the Smokies.

"As long as we stay on track with the weather we've had, it should be a good year," said Rock.

The shorter span of sunlight each day is the main trigger, but Rock said temperatures and precipitation also affect the show.

"When you have warm sunny days and nights that don't reach freezing, it brings out the best colors, Rock said.

The mountains weren't badly affected by drought conditions that burned crops to the west.

Leaves change color because they're shutting down photosynthesis, which makes food for the trees. The production of green chlorophyll masks other colors. However, red pigment production also ramps up as photosynthesis shuts down.

Here's the fall foliage outlook for seven states in the Appalachian Mountain region.

GEORGIA: DOGWOODS VIVID

The north Georgia mountains typically showcase some of the state's brightest fall colors, and this year will be no exception, state forestry officials say.

Dogwood and maple trees in the upper elevations have already begun to change color, Ken Masten, a district manager with the Georgia Forestry Commission, wrote in a recent report.

"If we get a cold snap in the next two weeks or so where it gets 15 or 20 degrees colder, then the colors will be a little more vivid," said Joe Burgess, a senior forester with the Georgia Forestry Commission.

The colors are a big draw in north Georgia's mountain towns, where tourists come to see the hues of the leaves and then stay to shop or catch some live music at venues such as the Crimson Moon Cafe in Dahlonega, a town 60 miles north of Atlanta.

KENTUCKY: HOPE FOR RED

The mountainous areas of eastern Kentucky typically put on the best fall color show in the state, thanks to the variety of species and dense canopy. The first color transformations of the season are happening on dogwoods, sourgums and tulip poplars, which are showing yellows.

"I think we can always count on a fair degree of color in Kentucky, especially in the east, because of this envious mix of trees that we have," said Dean Henson, naturalist at Pine Mountain State Park in southeastern Kentucky. He said the forests there have up to 35 species of leaf-dropping trees.

The dry summer hasn't hurt the state's prospects for a colorful fall, but the weather over the next two weeks will determine if the most desirable colors — the reds and purples — come out this year, Henson said.

NORTH CAROLINA: STARTING TO SHOW

The Blue Ridge Mountains are famous for showing their true colors each fall, drawing visitors from around the globe. And with dry summer days soon to be followed by cool summer nights, those bright colors may be coming sooner.

North Carolina's foliage season starts in earnest in the high mountain areas in October and runs through mid-November, with colors cascading down to lower elevations throughout the month. In the highest areas, sourwoods are turning red, while maples are changes to shades of yellow, orange and red. High bush blueberries are turning a deep red, while sassafras is starting to turn its usual mixture of the same colors.

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