"Right now we're in a pretty bad drought for this area," he said. "I know a lot of leaves seem to have already turned starting maybe two or three weeks ago. ... They were turning brown and just falling off. That one good rainfall we got off of the tropical storm, it definitely did help but there was a pretty significant amount of leaves that have already turned and are already beginning to fall. But if we continue to get just a little rainfall that will definitely help with any colors. We're real concerned about the fire danger with as dry as it's been and all these leaves falling. We've had a real bad fire season in south Georgia. It was real, real dry throughout the year and they had several large fires down there ... but the leaves, it just depends on the rain. If we start to get a little bit of rain where the trees are still growing and producing chlorophyll, then we will have some color on the leaves. But if not, they will just turn brown and fall off.
"The leaves will begin to turn sometime in September, a little earlier this year. It kind of looked like fall in my yard two or three weeks ago already. Typically it starts in September when the temperatures begin to drop. I would say the peak's usually around the second or third week of November. If the temperatures start to drop just a little bit, they'll start turning more and more. And when you get a frost or two, that's really when it kicks off the leaf [season] and things begin really starting to turn. So the first frost is kind of the trigger for a lot of that stuff. But I think the main thing that goes into the color is the rainfall amounts and if you have a really dry year like this, it could just be where they turn brown and fall off with very little color."
To help area residents plan their fall excursions, Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites is offering Leaf Watch 2011 at www.GeorgiaStateParks.org/Leafwatch from Oct. 1 through mid-November. The website monitors trees at its venues, including Red Top Mountain State Park and Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site in Cartersville. Along with routine postings from park rangers, the site also traditionally contains safety tips for campers and hikers and educational information, like why leaves turn color.
"Fall is always a popular season in the north Georgia mountains," said Kim Hatcher, public affairs coordinator for Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites. "Saturdays can be a bit busy, so if people can get away during the week, they might have a quieter experience. The Leaf Watch website helps people plan their trips because it lists suggested parks to go to and we list last minute availability, which sometimes can be difficult to find if you're looking for a cabin or a campsite at a state park in the mountains in the fall.
"Also, a lot of people start thinking about going leaf watching the minute the calendar flips over to October, but in reality a good portion of Georgia peaks in late October or even early November. So by the rangers giving weekly status updates, visitors can plan accordingly of when they might see peak color."
Other popular features of the Leaf Watch site range from a look at Black Rock Mountain State Park to a calendar of events, she said.
"The webcam at Black Rock Mountain, people really do pay attention to that webcam," Hatcher said. "It has not [been] working for awhile because of a lightning storm, so we've had to buy new equipment. We are hoping that it will be installed and ready to go by Oct. 1. If it's not, we'll definitely be working on that.
"We also partnered with the Georgia Forestry Commission last year, and they've got professional foresters who go all over north Georgia, not just the state parks, within the national forest and they have a blog where they write about what they see. So they're going to partner with us again this year. And there's a link to their blog on Leaf Watch. We've also got the calendar of events where people can find out where hayrides and guided hikes and fall festivals -- we have a lot of fall festivals this year -- [are located]."