West Virginia’s fall foliage display is off to a later than normal start, thanks to an exceptionally toasty September. But leaves have finally begun to take on their autumnal hues in the state’s northern highlands, where they should be nearing their peak later this week, according to the state Division of Forestry. 

Meanwhile, in the southern half of the state, where all counties are now classified as experiencing moderate to severe drought, brown is shaping up to become a primary fall color, and many trees are already beginning to shed leaves.

“Color change has two main drivers — moisture and temperature,” said Division of Forestry Director Barry Cook. This year, he said, Southern West Virginia “has been on the wrong end of both. The result has been the browning and dropping of leaves.”

Fall colors will still be evident in the southern half of the state, although “they may not be as brilliant as in some years,” Cook said. “But average or even below average fall colors in West Virginia create a landscape that’s more exciting than what a lot of the world gets to see,” he said.

The area north of U.S. 50 should produce the state’s most vibrant fall colors this year, since “that area has had more moisture and hasn’t been as hot as the rest of the state,” according to Cook.

There, Cook said, colors should peak, or at least be nearing peak stage, this week at elevations 3,500 feet or above, including Spruce Knob, Dolly Sods, Canaan Valley and other locales in the higher mountains of Tucker, Randolph and Pendleton counties.

“Fall color first arrives at higher elevations and works its way to lower elevations throughout the season,” he said. “It comes and goes very quickly.”

To help leaf peepers, both domestic and out-of-state, quickly find the brightest and best fall color displays, the Division of Forestry is expanding its partnership with the West Virginia Tourism Office.

In addition to weekly fall foliage updates, to be released on Wednesdays through the end of the season, Tourism and Forestry have launched a new real-time fall color tracking map. Leaf lovers can post their own recently taken fall color photos with #AlmostHeaven and have them added to the map, which is updated daily.

Those who view the map on WVtourism.com/fall and visit the Live Leaf Map can click on icons placed at map locations corresponding to the sites of posted photos to view the images and see for themselves how far along colors are advancing toward peak.

“This year, we’re calling on all West Virginians to help showcase our state’s beautiful fall colors,” said state Tourism Commissioner Chelsea Ruby. “As the leaves change in your area, take a photo and post it to social media using #AlmostHeaven. Your photos will help travelers from across the country see that West Virginia is the place to be in the fall.”

Also available from WVtourism.com/fall is a free Fall Pocket Passport, which includes a checklist of fall activities across the state, a leaf identification guide and a fall color forecast map.