ASHEVILLE, N.C. - Spectacular drone footage of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains shows the region’s vibrantly colored first autumn leaves.
The video was shared by Billy Bowling, who commented on the changing foliage on Grandfather Mountain — one of the major peaks of the Appalachian Mountains’ Blue Ridge — writing, "It’s like autumn snapped her fingers."
The video was taken just before sunset on Sept. 29.
Oct. 1 through Oct. 10 was forecast to be the peak viewing time for fall foliage on Grandfather Mountain.
The wonder of the autumnal colors have prompted many to partake in the activity known as "leaf peeping," when people travel to watch nature display its fall colors.
It’s a beloved annual activity in many corners of the country, especially New England and New York.
But leaf peeping is facing some serious threats in the era of climate change.
Recent seasons have been disrupted by weather conditions in areas well known for their fall colors and the trend is likely to continue as the planet warms, said arborists, conservationists and ecologists.
Typically, by the end of September, leaves cascade into warmer hues throughout the U.S. This year, many areas have yet to even pivot from their summer green shades. In northern Maine, where peak conditions typically arrive in late September, forest rangers had reported less than 70% color change and moderate leaf drop on Wednesday.
In Denver, high temperatures have left "dead, dry edges of leaves" early in the season, said Michael Sundberg, a certified arborist in the area.
"Instead of trees doing this gradual change, they get thrown these wacky weather events. They change all of a sudden, or they drop leaves early," Sundberg said. "Its been a few years since we've had a really good leaf year where you just drive around town and see really good color."
The reason climate change can be bad for fall foliage has a bit to do with plant biology. When fall arrives, and day length and temperature drop, the chlorophyll in a leaf breaks down, and that causes it to lose its green color. The green gives way to the yellows, reds and oranges that make for dramatic autumn displays
This summer's heatwave in the Pacific Northwest brought temperatures of over 110 degrees Fahrenheit to Oregon, and that led to a condition called "foliage scorch," in which leaves prematurely browned, said Chris Still, a professor at the Forest Ecosystems & Society department at Oregon State University.
The leaves' pigment was degraded and they fell shortly thereafter, Still said. That will lead to a less scenic fall season in parts of Oregon.
"That's a really big example of color change just due to heatwave shock," Still said.
The economic impact of poor leaf peeping seasons could also be consequential. Officials throughout New England have said fall tourism brings billions of dollars into those states every year.
Conservationists say that's a good reason to focus on preserving forests and reducing burning fossil fuels. Recent fall seasons have been less spectacular than typical in Massachusetts, but leaf peeping can stay a part of the state's heritage if forests are given the protections they need, said Andy Finton, landscape conservation director and forest ecologist for The Nature Conservancy.
This story was reported from Los Angeles. The Associated Press and Storyful contributed.