Gatlinburg Fall Colors Forecast and Foliage Report 2016
Each year, we post the very first Gatlinburg Fall Colors Forecast before anyone else, which we we have historically posted in August…way before anyone else even attempts to “guess”. We put a lot of research and experience into providing the most accurate forecast, which have been right on the money since we started posting our fall foliage forecasts years ago! This year, we’re doing something crazy…we are jumping way ahead of everyone else and posting our 2016 forecast in JULY! Before you think we’re crazy, keep reading to see the science behind our prediction and see when we expect fall colors to start appearing throughout the Smoky Mountains.
Fall is a special season in Gatlinburg, TN and the Smoky Mountains as the temperatures drop, sweet aromas fill the air, and trees turn into an incredibly beautiful display of colors. The fall colors in Gatlinburg are one of the most beautiful sights that you will ever see. Each year, people always ask when the leaves will change color in Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains in hopes of planning a visit at just the right time to see the colors at their peak (when they are the brightest). Below, we provide information on what makes the leaves change color, when they normally peak, when the estimated peak color dates are for 2016, and links to live webcams to see what the colors look like. We’ve even provided a video to give you an idea of what the Gatlinburg fall colors look like! We’ve packed everything we could think of into this ultimate guide to the 2016 Gatlinburg fall colors forecast to help you prepare the best vacation possible to the Smokies!
How Leaves Change Color in the Fall
Understanding what makes leaves change color in the fall will give you an idea of how to know when the colors will peak. There’s a long, detailed, scientific explanation available at the USDA Forest Service website, but here’s a basic overview. Leaves begin to change color as days become shorter and nights become longer. That’s the primary catalyst for getting the fall colors developing in the foliage. During the fall, the nights are longer so trees slow down their photosynthesis process (which is what makes leaves green). When photosynthesis comes to a halt, the leaves go from green to a gorgeous display of red, orange, and yellow. Historically, fall colors normally peak in mid-to-late October in Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains. Will this year’s peak fall foliage be during that same time? Read on to find out!
The length of day isn’t the only factor, but it’s arguably the most important. Two other major factors are temperature and weather heading into autumn. To get the most brilliant fall colors, there needs to be a string of warm, sunny days with cool (not freezing) nights. This is the perfect recipe for bright, fall foliage so be sure to check weather forecasts for the area you plan to visit to look for a pattern such as that.
Freezing temperatures are the worst enemy for fall colors. If temperatures dip to freezing levels, leaves will brown up almost immediately and begin to fall. So also be on the lookout for a “cold snap” of freezing temperatures and try to get your visit in before it happens!
So When Will the Leaves Change Color in Autumn 2016?
Ah, so the big question everyone wants an answer to. The answer is often as accurate as guessing the weather… after all, they are both connected. Fortunately for you, we put enormous amounts of time and effort in analyzing all sorts of data to provide you with as accurate of a forecast as possible. We know many of you plan vacations around the fall colors and we hope that our accurate report helps you time the best possible visit this year!
Foliage Forecast #4: October 4, 2016
We’ve had a string of warm, sunny days and cool nights and we’re seeing very sporadic (not much) color at the very top of the Smokies, but we expect to see that accelerate over the next week. The absolute biggest concern right now is if hurricane Matthew will affect the Smokies at all. If it sends a lot of sustained wind to the Smokies, it will wipe out a considerable amount of foliage. So we’re keeping an eye on how that will impact this fall color season.
So for this report, we’re going to assume that the Smokies won’t be affected by it at all. There aren’t any freezing temperatures expected in the forecast, so that helps the leaves stay on trees. Our forecast is right on track with what we originally predicted way back on July 27th using historical models and weather patterns. We expect to see colors appear and peak at the top of the Smokies around mid October and then cascade down toward Gatlinburg in the last couple weeks of October. Pigeon Forge will see most of its color most likely in the last week of October and into the first week or two in November.
Once again, this could dramatically change if Hurricane Matthew impacts our area at all…so check back next week for an updated forecast to see how the Smokies are looking.
Foliage Forecast #3: September 27, 2016
The day we have been waiting for is FINALLY HERE! Why are we so excited? Because the temperatures have finally dropped TODAY! We are set to have a string of cool nights and warm days (but not hot), which is the perfect setup to get these colors to start popping soon. The only thing missing is a bit more moisture…we’ve had an incredibly dry and hot couple of months, so the concern is that once colors start to pop, they aren’t going to hang around very long…literally. Thankfully we have a small bit of rain in the forecast to hopefully help keep the leaves around for us to enjoy.
We’re seeing some yellows in the highest elevations, and we expect to see more colors transform over the next couple of weeks on top of the mountains. If you’re wanting to see color in downtown Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, the best colors will pop in the last half of October…and may even hang around through the first week of November. Again, it all really depends on if we ever get some rain (a bit of rain would help prolong the colors) and if temps stay above freezing at night (frost is the party pooper for fall colors). Finally, we’re on the lookout for any strong storms in October…we don’t see any in the forecast, but a strong storm could wipe out a lot of the fall colors.
SO…pray, cross fingers, dance, or do whatever you do to hope for cool nights, sunny days, a BIT of rain, above freezing temps, and no strong storms. If we get that, it’s a Yahtzee for fall colors!
Foliage Forecast #2: September 12, 2016
After our last forecast, the rain seemed to all but disappear in the Smokies! We’ve had some very dry and hot conditions throughout late summer…but that could actually be great news! The dry weather forces trees to build up the chemical that eventually creates the most vibrant colors…so we’re extremely hopeful for a fantastic display of fall colors! The question right now is “when”. The warm weather isn’t motivating any trees to kick into transforming any time soon…plus, we have some wet weather in the forecast, which could also delay the colors just a bit as well.
So, to sum all of that up, we’re expecting very vibrant colors but if the temperatures continue to be hot then the colors will likely peak in the later half of October in the upper elevations and early November in the lower elevations.
Foliage Forecast #1: July 27, 2016 – The Smoky Mountains have had a very wet and warm early summer, which means the trees are extremely green & plush with leaves. This has created an enormously full canvas for what we expect to be an incredibly vibrant, beautiful, and hopefully long-lasting fall foliage season! The biggest variable in predicting when the colors will change is the temperature. Everything will kick into gear when we have cool (but not freezing) nights starting in September as the daylight becomes shorter. Currently, the National Weather Service is predicting above-average temps for August, so hopefully that will change as September rolls in.
As of right now, our first prediction for the 2016 Fall Color Forecast for the Smoky Mountains is October 15 – November 15. As always, the colors will begin to change in the highest elevations first and then trickle down into the valley (Pigeon Forge) over the following weeks. As temperature and weather patterns change over the next couple of months, we will update this forecast accordingly if necessary.
We’re looking forward to a gorgeous fall color season in the Smokies!
Identifying Trees by Their Fall Colors
Each kind of tree typically turns a specific color in autumn, which often makes it easy to identify exactly which tree is which color. So if you’re curious as to what color each tree turns or if you want to impress your family and friends, here is a simply guide of the colors that some of the most abundant trees change to during the fall.
- Oaks: red, brown or russet
- Hickories: golden bronze
- Dogwood: purple-red
- Birch: bright yellow
- Poplar: golden yellow
- Maple trees:
Black Maple: glowing yellow
Red Maple: bright scarlet
Gatlinburg and Smoky Mountain Webcams
Want to see what the leaves look like right now? Click here to see our full list of live Gatlinburg webcams or check out some of the most popular webcams below to see what the foliage looks like in various locations in and around Gatlinburg, TN:
Webcam from a vacation home in Gatlinburg:
Pioneer Cabin Rentals Webcam:
Webcam of foliage from Look Rock:
Webcam of foliage from Purchase Knob:
Video of Fall Colors in the Smoky Mountains
Below is a video that created by the USDA Forest Service showcasing the beautiful autumn colors found throughout the Smoky Mountains and various scenery that can be found. Pretty much everywhere you look resembles a postcard! In the video, they also share how to get more information on fall color reports directly from the Forest Service.
Final Thoughts about Fall Colors in Gatlinburg
The fall foliage is amazing throughout the entire Great Smoky Mountains National Park and there are numerous parkways, highways, side-roads, etc to drive and enjoy the views. When you visit Gatlinburg, be sure to at least drive up the Gatlinburg bypass (accessible from both ends of Gatlinburg) to see some scenic views of the mountains for some great photos of the Gatlinburg fall colors!