"Following one of the hottest summers on record, the North Carolina Piedmont is looking forward to a beautiful fall season," says Dick Thomas of the Piedmont Environmental Center.
SOUTH CAROLINA: EARLY START
The drought that has dried up the state for much of the summer means that South Carolina's fall foliage will be vibrant — and early — this year.
Blackgum, flowering dogwood, sourwood and sweetgum trees are already beginning to display shades from yellow to orange and bright red. But some of those same trees are already starting to drop their leaves, due to dry conditions.
"The limited summer rains came just in time," said Victor Shelburne, professor emeritus of forestry and natural resources at Clemson University. "While we're still in a drought, we received enough rain to keep most of the leaves on the trees."
Colors are expected to be most brilliant around mid-October in the higher elevations, late October in the lower elevations and early November in the Piedmont.
TENNESSEE: COLOR TEASING
Smokies spokeswoman Molly Schroar noted yellow birch, American beech, mountain maple and hobblebush have begun turning high in the mountains, giving a hint of the rich show to come. But Shroar suggested looking down now and then, to see black-eyed Susans, purple asters, goldenrod and other fall flowers just hitting their peak.
"We're getting teased a little bit by Mother Nature now," said Cindy Dupree of the Tennessee Department of Tourism as she looked out her car window at hits of red sumac and golds in the maples. "It won't be long until it's spectacular."
"On down in the Chattanooga area, that gets just as pretty as I've seen anywhere," Dupree said.
VIRGINIA: ABUNDANCE OF COLOR
With terrain varying from the mountains to the coast, Virginia offers an array of hues for leaf-peepers as 15 million acres of foliage change colors.
Expect yellow and maroon on ash trees, scarlet to purple on the state's dogwoods, and golden bronze on hickories. Virginia's red maples offer brilliant scarlet colors, beech trees feature yellow to orange leaves, poplars present a golden yellow, and reds, browns and russet colors from the state's oaks.
"This year should be a spectacular year because of the summer weather conditions," said Richard Lewis, a spokesman from the Virginia Tourism Corporation. "It's going to produce a lot of very vivid foliage.
Peak colors are expected in the western mountains during mid-to-late October and in the central and eastern parts of Virginia during late October and early November.
WEST VIRGINIA: BEST STILL AHEAD
With most of West Virginia's best fall colors yet to arrive, the best places to see an array of red, yellow and orange are in the highest elevations.
The Division of Forestry recommends drives from Harman to Spruce Knob, from Webster Springs to Valley Head, the Highland Scenic Highway in Pocahontas County, and in the Monongahela National Forest along state Routes 28-55 to the Dolly Sods Wilderness.
With a wide variety of trees and elevations, West Virginia's fall color season began in late September and runs through late October.
Maple, gum, ash, beech and birch trees in higher elevations are showing a mix of colors.
"We are at a higher elevation so we enjoy the leaf color change earlier," said Babcock State Park Superintendent Kevin Cochran. "It's just tremendous here."
Rock, the Smokies botanist, cautioned about planning a leaf-viewing trip too early.
"People seem to jump the gun a lot, thinking Oct. 1 comes and is a magic date."
Rock said the show can last into November, barring storms that bring down the leaves.
Asked when she would take her hike, Rock replied the second to third week of October.
Associated Press writers Michael Felberbaum in Richmond, Va.; Meg Kinnard in Columbia, S.C.; Dylan Lovan in Louisville, Ky.; Jeff Martin in Atlanta and John Raby in Charleston, W.Va. contributed to this report.
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