Leaf watchers rejoice: There should be a more colorful and longer leaf period this year.
“If you remember back when we were in the drought, when we’d start going into fall it would seem like the leaves would start turning a little earlier,” said Vaughn Smith, a forecaster with the National Weather Service. “It was because the trees didn’t have enough water. But this year, it looks like everything is right on track as to when the leaves are supposed to be turning.”
With the official first day of fall arriving today, Smith said the upcoming season is expected to be “near normal” in terms of temperature and precipitation.
He said rainfall should not be anywhere near what it was over the summer. “That was not normal,” he said with a laugh.
Summer made a soggy exit Saturday, with about an inch of rain recorded at the NWS automated station at Gainesville’s Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport.
Bill Murphey, the state climatologist with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, said 61.19 inches of precipitation was recorded in Gainesville year-to-date.
“That’s the second wettest (year) of all time, up to this point,” he said. “That’s 23.14 inches above normal.”
He added that autumn tends to typically be drier.
The summer rains have eased in recent weeks, and Hall County Extension Coordinator Michael Wheeler said that could contribute to more leaf color.
“The trees aren’t in a lot of stress right now,” Wheeler said. “Usually by now, they’re stressed out because it’s been so dry.
“If we get bright, cool days and good, cool nights, that really helps that secondary (color).”
Murphey said that during a drought, there tends to be poorer color and a “quicker drop of leaves.”
“Temperature is real important,” Murphey said. He said that, for the past six months, the Hall County area has tied with the second coldest average at 67.5 degrees, 2.7 degrees below normal.
“If you kind of spread the rain and you spread the temperature out toward the end of summer going into fall over a little longer period of time, then you have a good chance of getting some decent colors and some decent fall foliage,” Murphey said.
Stefanie Paupeck, communications manager with the Georgia Department of Economic Development, said that this time of year definitely attracts tourists.
She said that in 2012, tourism dollars in Hall County added up to $252 million, up from $234 million in 2011.
2012 was “tourism’s best year ever” in Georgia, with tourism generating $51.2 billion, Paupeck added.
The department does not break those numbers down by month or season, but “I think it’s safe to say that visitors travel to the North Georgia mountains to experience the fall pretty regularly,” she said.
For local residents, this is a good time of year for the home gardener to plant trees and shrubs, Wheeler said.
“Even though (they) are dormant during the winter time, they will grow roots,” he explained. “Our soil doesn’t get that cold to where root growth would be stunted.”
Wheeler also said now is the ideal time to plant spring flowering bulbs, like tulips and daffodils.
“Soil sampling in the fall is great because if you need lime for your gardens of your flower beds to raise the pH, this is a great time of year to do that,” he said.
Autumn arrives with what should be a clear, pleasant day with a high of 76 and a nighttime low of 62.
Vaughn said that some showers from Saturday may hold over into this morning, but should then clear out in the afternoon and evening hours. Monday temperatures will be about the same, with partly cloudy skies and only a slight chance of rain.