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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293 rob
You done got bubble neuculated
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10084
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308. RTLSNK

ROFLMAO - Thought that sounded like the spider talking, either that or you got some bad drugs - same effect either way as I'm laughing so hard I can hardly type.
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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


LOL... ya I have about an inch of snow... yay
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Quoting pottery:
Hi Hurristat. Where are you ?


Im in SE MI. At least I dont live in W MI. They have 9 INCHES OF SNOW!!!
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Incredible tornado video

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brr cold lol
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yikes..sorry
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11149
Quoting Patrap:
Mensch (Yiddish: מענטש mentsh) means "a person of integrity and honor"[1]. The direct opposite of a Mensch is an Unmensch (meaning: an utterly cruel or evil person). According to Leo Rosten, the Yiddish maven and author of The Joys of Yiddish, mensch is "someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being “a real mensch” is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous"[2].


That was one of the words when I was playing the original Balderdash game. OMG
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need link instructions!!!!
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Come ON, RTL. We are in suspense here. Tenter hooks even.
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Rob - I had a great new photo that Beachfoxx sent of a huge wolf spider today, so I invented that whole skit about the woolly bears to go along with the photo and I can't get the dumb thing to download.
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deleted
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
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Quoting theshepherd:
197 pat
Excellant. Too bad the "youngins" wern't there to experience the Beatles and the others in "THE BEGINING".
By the way, have you ever heard Paul solo on a six string? He is a master. Same goes for Stevie Nix's lead.
Too many unsungs to mention...lol


Heard all the songs though. The Chain by Fleetwood Mac is a classic. Sorry, I always go through the previous posts.
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delete

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298. RTLSNK

What the ???? LMAO
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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
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Quoting pottery:
Rob, 293. Happens to me too.......

Me three

I can't help noticing a blob in the southern Caribbean that hasn't moved in a few days could it form?
Member Since: March 29, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2372
Hi Hurristat. Where are you ?
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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?
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evening
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Rob, 293. Happens to me too.......
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Quoting RobDaHood:
Hi Tampa!

Does anybody else ever hit post here and get wisked away to Dr. M's photo page? Wierd, happens at least once a day to me.


Ya it does it to me also but, it usually happens on about the 50th posting donomations it seems..
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
Hi DDR. I was wondering how you made out this week. Dry Spot ??
Strange. Intense rain, but very localised. This evening there was plenty flashing going on south and west of me. And it was cloudy all day. But no rain.
Any idea how many inches fell in those flooded areas on Tuesday ?
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Hi Tampa!

Does anybody else ever hit post here and get wisked away to Dr. M's photo page? Wierd, happens at least once a day to me.
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I just updated my Weather Blog if anyone would like to review......

TampaSpins Weather Blog Link
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
291. DDR
Quoting pottery:
Thanks Pat.
Rob, that convection may just stay south for a while. Hope so anyway.
Although Caracas is under heavy manners right now

Hi pottery,you should take a look @ the Infrared images,some showers are headed our way,i need it,i've been a dry spot for a couple days now.
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Use the Oyster dressing here and you'll never use cornbread again...

Sorry ,reloaded here> Link
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284. Patrap

Thanks for the info, so wish that I could go!

Shepherd - peace and karma - I've always sensed that from you...that's why I like you!

You to pot, well, that and the fact that I've got to have someone to drink this rum with!
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Yah, Pat. That sounds like a GOOD time there.
I been wanting to come to NO for years.
One day........
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Been fun chat folks.
Im gonna go absorb my Sofa and some DVR .
Catch ya'll tomorrow.

Blog Safe,..have a designated Blogger drive ya home if need be,ya dont want a BUI !

Blogging Under Idiocy.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 128240
would like e mailed to me the best cornbread and sausage stuffing recipe you have?
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thanx rob
peace and karma bro
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10084
Going to be a tough Sunday thru Thursday here. We Have the Po-Boy Festival Sunday,The Saints on MNF in the Dome..then Thursday Turkey Oyster Rockerfeller day,..
Im stuffed already,PHEW,..LOL

www.poboyfest.com Link

The 2008 New Orleans Po-Boy Preservation Festival will feature:

* live music on two stages
* over 60 of New Orleans' best-known artists offering unique artwork
* family-friendly events such as a childrens section with games and prizes, po-boy photo booth, silent auction, and panel discussions covering the history of the po-boy (starting at 11:00 a.m.)
* and, of course, the best tasting po-boys in New Orleans


Volunteers Needed

Help get NOLA fired up at the 2008 Po-Boy Fest! Sign up now to volunteer at the festival Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 128240
276
thanx pot
I was worried there for a minute.
Whew...I'll drink to that lol
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10084
278. theshepherd

Hey, I can be intimidating & mean if I have to be, but I'm much happier playing the nice guy.

I'm all about 2nd chances.
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Hoghead cheese...you betcha.
Sauteed gator is by far my favorite.
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10084
276. pottery

well, at least we can all agree on the music - LOL
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Thanks Pat.
Rob, that convection may just stay south for a while. Hope so anyway.
Although Caracas is under heavy manners right now
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259 rob
Thanx, you took one for the team.
I'd still like to turn it all around and start over. As in "fo-get aboud it"
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10084
270. pottery

just popped out for a look at WVLoop not pretty. Area may be beginning to dry up a bit but still a lot of convection to your south...still trying to send positive thoughs your way, very extended range, but trying my friend!
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LOL Sheph.
If you do either of those 2 things, you will lose friends here, and find yourself becoming morbid and maudlin.
Its is not recommended at all. We will try to continue to put up with you, in your present manifestation.
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Im a Cajun ,,we eat anything that makes a sound or has eyes.

Ever eaten Hogs-Head cheese or Boudin Sausage,Smoked Sausage or Alligator Sausage?..Ayyyyyyeeeeee,Cher!

The trick is having the right amount of lean meat to fat and proper seasonings. We do Sausage big time.
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269 pat
Nope, that's my O'reilly hour. I'll catch the rerun later. Colbert is a riot for sure.
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thank you rob...and yes pat, bad camera angle or timing..i thnk so....famous question...would u eat sausage if you saw how it was made????
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Bad Rain Mojo Pottery,..sad to hear that.
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Mensch????
Pot, does that mean I have to stop drinkin' and insulting anarchists???
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10084
Yeah Rob. Dried out a bit today. The rains fell all around me.
The City is a complete mess. Cars washed away, roads and bridges gone awol, etc. 2 fatalities from mud slides, in different areas.

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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.