Winter forecast, part I: the woolley bear prediction

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:48 PM GMT on November 20, 2008

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According to legend, the severity of the upcoming winter can be judged by examining the pattern of brown and black stripes on woolly bear caterpillars--the larvae of Isabella tiger moths. If the brown stripe between the two black stripes on either end of the caterpillar is thick, the winter will be a mild one. A narrow brown stripe portends a long, cold winter. Some traditional forecasters say that the 13 segments on the caterpillar's body correspond to the 13 weeks of winter.

The Hagerstown, Maryland woolley bear forecast
The Hagerstown, Maryland Town and Country Almanack has been publishing weather forecasts and weather lore for 211 years. The Almanack sponsors an annual woolly bear caterpillar event, where local school children in Hagerstown collect woolly bears. A panel of judges examines the collected specimens and issues a woolly bear forecast for the upcoming winter. The results of this year's contest, which ended October 31: "From the small number of woolly bears, the consensus is that the winter will be very mild. The woolly bears predicted this by their three (3) bands of which the front band (representing the first half of winter and black in color) was shorter in length and normal. The back band (representing the second half of winter) was very small, thus indicating the mild winter prediction. As a result of those markings, which were similar in all woolly bears, the sponsors were able to make the predictions."

Oil Valley Vick
Naturally, this forecast only applies to the Hagerstown, Maryland area, so other locales will need to do their own woolly bear work to gauge the local winter forecast. In Oil City, Pennsylvania, just 150 miles northwest of Hagerstown, organizers of the Pumkin Bumkin Festival have located the lair of "Oil Valley Vick", a woolly bear caterpillar of unknown forecasting ability, but great potential. In his inaugural forecast on October 23 this year, Oil Valley Vick wowed the crowd at the Pumkin Bumkin Festival when he crawled out of his log. The black stripes covering fully 2/3 of Oil Valley Vick's body left no doubt that he expected a cold, severe winter for northwestern Pennsylvania.


Figure 1. Kelly the woolly bear caterpillar with her owner, six-year-old Kurstin Hartsell of Ansonville, NC. Image credit: Jim Morton, Avery County Chamber of Commerce.

The Banner Elk, North Carolina Woolly Bear forecast
In Banner Elk, NC it's the fastest woolly bear caterpillar which is judged to be the best forecaster. After successfully out-sprinting hundreds of other woolly bears, this year's winner of the 31st Annual Woolly Worm Festival race was Kelly the Woolly Worm, raced by six-year-old Kurstin Hartsell of Ansonville, NC. Kelly the Woolly Worm's official forecast for the winter of 2008-2009 calls for the first four weeks to be cold and snowy, followed by three weeks of seasonably cold weather, followed by six weeks of snowy and cold weather (severely cold in week 11, March 1-7). A study of the predictions of the Banner Elk woolly bears between 1978 and 2000 revealed that "woolly worm winter predictions were exactly on target eight times out of 23, or 34.8%. Woolly worm predictions were close (4.0-4.9) another five times (21.7%). Woolly worm predictions were right in some areas, wrong in others (3.0-3.9) six times (26.1%). Woolly worm predictions were wrong more than they were right (2.0-2.9) four times (17.4%). Put another way, the woolly worms were close or completely right 57% of the time, and more than half right 82.6% of the time".

Other studies of woolly bear forecast accuracy
Several scientific studies have been done on woolly bear caterpillar forecasts, including one by the American Museum of Natural History. None of these studies has shown any correlation between woolly bear markings and the severity of the upcoming winter. According to the Old Farmer's Almanac, Dr. Charles Curran, curator of insects at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, studied woolly bear markings between 1948-1956 in Bear Mountain State Park, 40 miles north of New York City. He found some preliminary results that seemed to indicate that the thickness of the bands might indicate the severity of the upcoming winter. However, Dr. Curran gave up the study in 1955 after finding two groups of caterpillars living near each other that had vastly different predictions for the upcoming winter, according to science writer Ned Rozell.

So, two out of three woolley bear forecasts point to a colder than average winter for the Appalachian region of the U.S. In upcoming blog posts, I'll analyze what NOAA's computer models and the Old Farmer's Almanac have to say about the upcoming winter.

Portlight making keynote presentation at charity funding conference today
The Portlight.org charity is making the keynote presenation at a funding conference hosted by a coalition of state and federal agencies which work in the area of post-disaster relief involving people with disabilities. The presentation is this morning, November 20, at 9:15 am EST. You can follow the proceedings via the portlight webcam at stormjunkie.com. At the conference, they plan to discuss the Hurricane Ike relief efforts made possible by the Weather Underground community. Thanks for everyone's support for making all this possible!

Jeff Masters

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347 - Pottery - great story! I really have a live and let live attitude about trants, scorps, and snakes, have been in areas of the world where some of the serious predators lived and as long as they didn't invade what I considered my personal space they would survive the encounter. But when they come in my house its terminate with extreme prejudice time. LOL, Had three wolf spiders get into my garage in the last week, and they are fast runners and they jump like jack-rabbits, don't even try to "catch" them. hahaha
Member Since: September 3, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 20594
Quoting RobDaHood:
BUSTED!

At least I'm not on the infamous ignore list!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
BUSTED!
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 96 Comments: 31762
Quoting pottery:
AH HAH. I caught you Sugar !
(gotta love this site)
"night all.

g'nite, spider man!
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AH HAH. I caught you Sugar !
(gotta love this site)
"night all.
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It was him or me, Sheph. And when I am faced with that choice, its ALWAYS me. Even if you have pink toes.
heheheheh

gone.........
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Quoting pottery:
Anyway, I'm gone.
Stay safe, and dont have any fun while I'm gone either.....

Break out the rum, Pottery's gone!
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Anyway, I'm gone.
Stay safe, and dont have any fun while I'm gone either.....
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Pink toes ???
Pottery, be ashamed of yourself.
Even baby seals get more compassion than what you subjected that poor critter to.
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10077
347 Pottery, your wife shoulda been saving the beast!! pink-toed spiders with hair, that sounds creepy, LOL!
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Sugar, sorry got busy for a moment...He is a Timberwolf - Malamute hybrid. Details in comments on my blog.
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 96 Comments: 31762
LOL Rob. Fortunately, since we have these chickens roaming around, I have not seen any of those in a year or so. Good thing too....
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Quoting theshepherd:
334 sugar
If it has dew claws, it's a mix....

Of course, thanks.
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347. pottery

oh, man too funny! Had it been me, he'd have probably taken a 9mm right between the eyeballs, even if it meant sleeping on the couch!
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 96 Comments: 31762
LOL, sorry about that, Hurristat.
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gotta go... have a wonderful however long it is before I come back on again.
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Quoting pottery:
Nice Spider.
Had a run-in with a tarantula a while ago. A BIG one. Black. Hairy. Pink toes. The wife found it in the bedroom, 9 ft up, just below the ceiling. I said "step aside, I"ll deal with this"
"no, no, dont kill it"
"Wha ??
"catch it, put it outside" etc.
So, I got a big collander from the galley, and an old record jacket. Planned to whap the collander over the docile looking thing, slide the record under, and please the Lady in Distress.
Got onto the dresser. Whapped the Beast. He saw the whap coming. Took off. Got him by 1 foot.I am perched. If I press too hard, the leg comes off and I'm a gonner. If I dont press hard enough, he gets away. I'm a gonner.
I raise one foot, balanced precariously, slide off my go-forward shoe, and give him the Real Whap.
Left a nasty mark on the wall.
But I lived........
Did not have a good evening with the Lady.



the storyline went up up up up and then fell like the DOW.
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You all better start being good.....LOL

Animations - santa with list
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
Quoting RobDaHood:
hurristat

wondered where you've been. afraid you might have frozen. Pop over and look at my blog when you get a chance...something for a young man like you to consider. LOL


never answered your first question. couldnt get on the computer for several days. technically I could, but I had too much Homework.
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Link
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Quoting sugarsand:
322 Hurristat But I live in Florida, in the NW part of the state. We're not supposed to be cold in Nov!


And I live in the North. I get hotter than you in the summer (due to you guys being next to the ocean and the lake effect doesnt affect me much) and I get much much colder than you in the winter. You guys dont know what cold is. Then again, Palin would say I dont know what cold is. Temperature is subjective as to whether its cold or warm.
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334 sugar
If it has dew claws, it's a mix....
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10077
340. GeoffreyWPB

the image has to be on the web or uploaded to your photos. When you can view the image in your browser, right click on it and select properties. then you can copy the link address (http:sitename.com/picture.jpg) or something similar. Go to the bottom of this page, just like you were going to post text, but click "image" then paste the link address into the box. If the image is large you should resize it to something more suitable when given the option, otherwise just leave that part blank. click ok, then click either preview to test it or post to post it. should work...note that some servers do not allow you to link their images directly.
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 96 Comments: 31762
Nice Spider.
Had a run-in with a tarantula a while ago. A BIG one. Black. Hairy. Pink toes. The wife found it in the bedroom, 9 ft up, just below the ceiling. I said "step aside, I"ll deal with this"
"no, no, dont kill it"
"Wha ??
"catch it, put it outside" etc.
So, I got a big collander from the galley, and an old record jacket. Planned to whap the collander over the docile looking thing, slide the record under, and please the Lady in Distress.
Got onto the dresser. Whapped the Beast. He saw the whap coming. Took off. Got him by 1 foot.I am perched. If I press too hard, the leg comes off and I'm a gonner. If I dont press hard enough, he gets away. I'm a gonner.
I raise one foot, balanced precariously, slide off my go-forward shoe, and give him the Real Whap.
Left a nasty mark on the wall.
But I lived........
Did not have a good evening with the Lady.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
332 - Rob - You are a Prince among men. Now the skit makes sense!! Did look a little weird without the photo of harry. I promise I will never do it again. LOL
Member Since: September 3, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 20594
BRB Have to get the young'un off the XBOX and that takes a crowbar.
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Quoting RobDaHood:
sugar, not ours, a coworker of my girlfriend.

What is the breed? Do you know? Or is it a mix?
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sorry for being a pric*..but just think...not a a**hole next season!
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sugar, not ours, a coworker of my girlfriend.
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 96 Comments: 31762
do i have to do the photo bucket thing or can i do it right from ie9?
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one more ? how do i post a pic?
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Okay, RTLSNK, now it all makes perfect sense
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 96 Comments: 31762
Is that your pup?! Great looking dog. gotta read the text with tongue in cheek!! LOL...but seeing as "mom" sent it, it's funny!
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325 rob
Nope, not even close "bear with me Pottery"

Ahem... (moron clearing his throat)...Bubble neuculation is the process that facillitates the birth of parelell universes. Can't believe you don't know that. LOL
Want to here more ???
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10077
Hey, sugar

I hate them too, that's why RTLSNK was trying to share it with me LOL

For warm cuddly dreams, take a look at the pic on my blog
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 96 Comments: 31762
Thx Rob, now I'll have nightmares! I need the rum now!!
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Quoting TampaSpin:


Copy the link by right clicking the mouse and hit copy on the link.....then click the link button where we post comments. Right click the mouse and paste that link into the link area and send it off...

Copy and paste
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Hi Guys - did someone mention woolly bear caterpillars? I love caterpillars, but if you guys ate all the woolly bears I might be interested in some of that sausage that Pat was talking about. Hey, have you guys seen a friend of mine? RobinHood, you know, the guy with the wolf dog. I liked the look of that wolf, he was hairier than me! Listen, I have to run now, RTLR is coming back and he told me when he saw me in his garage this morning he was going to take me out. I wonder if that means outside?

courtesy: RTLSNK
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 96 Comments: 31762
Quoting theshepherd:
305 Hur
Por nada...grab a rum and belly up.


too young. sorry
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
pat taught me how to post a you tube video...now do you post a regular link?


Copy the link by right clicking the mouse and hit copy on the link.....then click the link button where we post comments. Right click the mouse and paste that link into the link area and send it off...
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
Free Rum ?? Where? Did I doze off? What is happening?
LOL
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I give up, will go read those instructions on photos and links again. You can see that monster on Orca's blog, post 146, or just google the words "wolf spider" and click on the monster on the left side of the screen.LOL
Member Since: September 3, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 20594
pat taught me how to post a you tube video...now do you post a regular link?
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322 Hurristat But I live in Florida, in the NW part of the state. We're not supposed to be cold in Nov!
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Quoting theshepherd:
293 rob
You done got bubble neuculated


Oh, okay, so in an alternative timeline my browser is working perfectly, RTLSNK's spider uploads as planned, and we all get free rum!
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 96 Comments: 31762
307. TampaSpin 9:40 PM EST on November 20, 2008
Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
please visit http://www.jacquielawson.com


Just to let you know, you cannot post what you just posted as you will get banned for life for that.......

Yikes..how do you just post a regualr link to wish everyone a happy thanksgiving? or is that against the rules?



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305 Hur
Por nada...grab a rum and belly up.
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10077
Quoting sugarsand:
Hi all, Taking a break from packing.....hard work, you know. LOL! Hardest part is the one suitcase per passenger. Shipped the dive gear (save for the masks and regs)to Duck Key, so that's not a worry. Hope the weather is warmer than here. 37 degrees low tonight, 30 tomorrow.


that actually sounds warm... OMG!! LOL JK

wow three internetisms in one post
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Hi all, Taking a break from packing.....hard work, you know. LOL! Hardest part is the one suitcase per passenger. Shipped the dive gear (save for the masks and regs)to Duck Key, so that's not a worry. Hope the weather is warmer than here. 37 degrees low tonight, 30 tomorrow.
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293 rob
You done got bubble neuculated
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10077

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.