Is Peak? Ten Things To Know About Ozark Foliage
by Gary Cooley
You may read or hear conflicting dates for when this area's peak foliage
color occurs. There are good reasons for these conflicting dates, which I explain below.
First, when is peak?
Over ten years of consecutive foliage
reporting clearly proves that the peak for our reporting area occurs during the last few
days of October and the first few days of November. If you need to plan well in advance
for your Ozark fall foliage trip, your best bet is coming over the last weekend of
October, or the first weekend of November. However, it can depend on several factors,
which is why you need to read our report.
Now for the events which are responsible
for the conflicts in peak foliage prediction.
First: Peak foliage is highly dependent on weather conditions. It takes
clear sunny days with temperatures no warmer than the mid 60's, and cooler nights with
temperatures no higher than the high 30's to mid 40's. When a peak is about to occur, a
few warm cloudy days will slow that turn. Conversely, a hard frost can damage the color
because of accelerated chemical reactions within the leaves.
Don't worry about how much rain there was
during the summer. If the leaves are green in the fall, they WILL turn color! While it is
somewhat true that summer rain levels can help increase color brilliance, it is not a
given fact. Weather conditions in October are the primary force behind color change.
Second: An Ozark foliage turn does not happen as quickly as a color
change in northern states. In fact there are several stages in Ozark color turns. The
first color turns begin along the rivers in low valleys. Turns then progresses up the
hillsides. By the time peak color appears on the hillsides most of the trees along the
rivers will have long since peaked and dropped their leaves.
Third: There are an incredible number of tree species in the Ozarks.
There are 42 oak species alone. Each tree specie changes at a different time in a
different pattern. Maples, hickory, beech, ash, hackberry, gum, and many more all are on
their own schedules.
Fourth: You'll see some hillsides in full color, but across a valley is
a green hillside. Pockets of cold air tend to form between low lying north-facing hillside
valleys and ridges. As it cools air drains from the ridgetops to the valleys after sunset.
If the cold air is trapped by a land formation it can lead to an early turn for that
particular spot. These spotty turns are not common in the northern states.
Fifth: A key point to remember is that you'll see understory foliage as
well as canopy foliage. The most beautiful colors occur in the understory, usually no more
than a few feet off the ground. Drive down back roads in the National Forests, which are
public lands. Park, get out, and walk around next to the road. You will not be
Six: Foliage turns earlier the further north you go. For example,
peak occurs a week earlier in central Missouri than it does in Mountain View, Arkansas.
Pick any point on the map in the Ozarks. Plan that for every 30 air miles north you go,
the foliage will be one day more advanced toward peak.
Seventh: Remember that our Fall in the Ozarks foliage report is for our
reporting area only. Our area base is Mountain Home, Arkansas, then north 42 air miles to
Ava, Missouri, and 30 air miles south to Mountain View, Arkansas. Our east-to-west
coverage is west from Hardy, Arkansas to the Jasper/Harrison, Arkansas area.
In general our report will be accurate
outside this area as far as east-west Ozark conditions go. But north-south conditions will
be much further advanced or behind our reporting area. The color turn follows a
north-south pattern as the days shorten.
Eighth: We do not use "spotters" for our foliage reporting. We
are the spotters. We drive the highways, walk the trails, boat the waters, and as peak
approaches, we fly over our area to make sure we're "spot on" with our reports.
Needless to say, this foliage running takes
a lot of time. That is why other reporting efforts rely upon spotters they can call and
ask what the foliage looks like in their area. Our experience has been that spotters all
seem to have a different standard of what stage color is in. The result can be a spotty
report ( sorry, could not resist the pun).
Ninth: I'm a full-blown leaf-peeping fall foliage junkie. I grew up in
Vermont. I have seen the best foliage color in the world more than once. And I have also
lived in the Rocky Mountains, and in the Appalachian Mountains. Every region has a
different foliage turn. It takes a lot to impress me. That is why you will not see a lot
of hype and and exaggeration in our reports.
Tenth: Contributing somewhat to the confusion over peak foliage dates
are that the cable TV channels run foliage reports showing peak foliage occurring in late
September. These reports are for northern, not southern states. Southern states turn about
a month to six weeks later than northern states. Don't go by what you see on TV for this
area. They are reporting northern foliages. If you miss the northern peaks, come on down