(To view the 2012-2013 winter forcecast click on
PREDICTING THE 2011 PENNSYLVANIA WINTER:
I have yet to see one. Perhaps it’s because of the rainy, wet, beginning of the autumn season. Whatever, I’ve been looking for them. After all, it will be nice to know what snows and storms Mother Nature will deliver between December and April.
What I’m looking for is the wooly worm, an autumnal predictor of the next season’s severity. The woolly bear is a fuzzy larva of the tiger moth found in the Midwest and Northeast.* It is the antithesis of Punxsutawney Phil, who predicts the final six weeks of winter. The wooly worm predicts the severity of the winter season:
- The way to “read a caterpillar” is: the smaller the brownish-red bands are the harsher the winter will be. The black stripes indicate snowy and cold weather while the brownish-red bands indicate periods of milder weather. A black band followed by a wide brownish red band and another black band indicates that winter will start off cold but will be mostly mild before ending cold.**
- The Woolly Bear caterpillar has 13 brown and black segments…The lighter brown a segment is, the milder that week of winter will be. The darker black a segment is, the colder and snowier the corresponding week will be.****
In 1948 biologist Charles Curran began studying wool the wooly worm, also known as woolly bears.
For the first three years, the caterpillars had wide brown bands, accurately forecasting three consecutive mild winters. The caterpillars failed the next year.
In 1955 the biologist abandoned the study. He’d discovered two groups of caterpillars living near each other that had vastly different predictions for the upcoming winter.*
We all want to know what the 2011-2012 winter prediction is, so I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. The wooly worm has spoken. It predicts
- normal precipitation and temperatures early in the winter.
- a change to colder temperatures and well above normal precipitation
This determination was made October 8, 2011, at the 15th annual Woolly Worm Festival held in Lewisberg, Pennsylvania. A panel of judges examined the color of the black and brown fur on a number of caterpillars before reaching their forecast.* Their predictions are determined by the color and plushness of the worms’ black and brown fur.
Woolly worms have magical powers, said head judge Steve Connolley.
Chief Judge Steve Connolley, who that, based on what he observed, this winter is going to be severe with deep, deep snow.***
In contrast (or agreement) Pittsburgh’s AccuWeather forecast predicts a stormy and cold winter, with mild spells, for central Pennsylvania. An early-season lake-effect snow could blanket the northwestern part of the state, it says.* Winter is going to be severe with deep, deep snow.***
Wait—there’s one more wooly worm festival to come. On the third weekend in October there is a Woolly Worm Festival in Banner Elk, North Carolina. This coming weekend they celebrate their 34th annual event, which includes a Woolly Worm Wace.
Their festival began in the late 1970s when Jim Morton, editor of the late Mountain Living Magazine, photographed the first woolly worm he saw to formulate a prediction of winter and to illustrate his story. The next day, after seeing another entirely different looking woolly worm, he concluded that there should be a formal procedure to decide which worm of the year should make the winter forecast.
And so the Woolly Worm Festival began. A woolly worm race, up a three-foot length of string, was designed to determine which woolly worm should have the honor of predicting the coming winter’s weather.
The Woolly Worm Wace sports total equality. No person is more likely to have a winning worm than any other person:
- There is no home-field advantage,
- no preferred age for the person who sets the worm on the string (although worms raced by children do seem to win a bit more frequently).
The naming of the woolly worms is done by friends and family members, who demonstrate some creativity: Merryweather, Patsy Climb and Dale Wormhardt.
In addition to the prestige of having the winning worm, there is a $1,000 first prize.
Here in Pennsylvania the Woolly Worm Festival seems to lack the pizzazz found in the North Carolina festival and the Punxsutawney Phil events. Why has Pennsylvania never even named a wooly worm candidate?
It is claimed that over the last 30 years, 85% of the time they have been either all or mostly right.**
Steve Connolley boasted about the critter’s 80 percent accuracy rate.***
I’m curious: are there other of Mother Nature’s critters which are also noted for predicting winter weather? If so, will their predictions match those of the wooly worm?
To continue reading click on Mother Nature’s Creatures Predict Winter Weather
Mayflies & Blisterflies: Summer Pests (this one has a short excerpt from my coming novel)