Winter forecast, part I: the woolley bear prediction

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

Share this Blog
3
+

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

Reader Comments

Comments will take a few seconds to appear.

Post Your Comments

Please sign in to post comments.

or Join

Not only will you be able to leave comments on this blog, but you'll also have the ability to upload and share your photos in our Wunder Photos section.

Display: 0, 50, 100, 200 Sort: Newest First - Order Posted

Viewing: 120 - 70

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10Blog Index

Quoting Seastep:
Sorry, couldn't resist... it had just popped up as a headline on Drudge.

You're gonna get a spankin' from "you know who"
;>)
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10093
Magnitude 5.0 - BAJA CALIFORNIA, MEXICO


Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
Being a dog lover,love to talk about them.Thats a goodlooking dog,and looks very intelligent.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
113. conchygirl

He is precious Conchy. Thanks everyone, any questions or comments I'll reply on my blog. I just don't want anyone getting upset with me for clogging up the works.
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 97 Comments: 32320
And cute hand. ;)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
115. Skyepony (Mod)
I never heard of them til I spent some years in WNC. Ours were a little more accurate but locals said you couldn't use just any woolly, only the ones all over the roads & driveways.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Yes, very cute dog.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting RobDaHood:
Any of you dog lovers out there that want a quick giggle check the pic and post on my blog

hope you enjoy.
RDH: That is hysterical and the dog is gorgeous!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Seastep:
I'm just hoping that's not your hand!


LOL, no! Girlfriend's hand. edit - moved comments to my blog
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 97 Comments: 32320
Not that there's anything wrong with that. ;)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
I'm just hoping that's not your hand!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Before any of the ladies get upset with me, My Mother sent me that list!

Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 97 Comments: 32320
Quoting RobDaHood:
Any of you dog lovers out there that want a quick giggle check the pic and post on my blog

hope you enjoy.


Rob,

Thats priceless,but don't think I'll share that with my wife,which is another reason guys like dogs,dogs think everything is amusing
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
106 - Rob - ROFLMAO
Member Since: September 3, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 21202
Any of you dog lovers out there that want a quick giggle check the pic and post on my blog

hope you enjoy.
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 97 Comments: 32320
OK folks, get over to the Portlight webcam and watch StormJunkie put down at least 10 krystals for a $100 donation to the cause. More money, more Krystals. Get over and watch the fun at the next stop!!!!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Sorry, couldn't resist... it had just popped up as a headline on Drudge.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
What timing. LOL.

Link
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
#72 nice snook
but the regulations are differnt depending on what coast u live on. i live on the gulf so our slot size is 28-33. atlantic and monroe county is 28-32.

check out the snook in my pic. i caught him in total freshwater last year about 30 miles inland from the gulf. measured 33 3/4 inches (caught him before the recent size limit change).

i know this cold spell here in fla is gonna shut down alot of the fishing for a few days. but on the bright side, the cooler temps make the pompano, trout, and mackeral bite better
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
101. IKE
Quoting Cotillion:


Way to go Ike, someone's gunna bring the two together now. :(



I can think of one that might, but I better not name who, on here..lol.....
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting IKE:


At least it's an alternative to Global Warming.....


Way to go Ike, someone's gunna bring the two together now. :(

Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
99. IKE
Quoting Hurricane4Lex:
Instead of wasting space on the US economy I'm just going to say

red green red green red green red green.......then ________


(insert what you think it will be)

I'm off later every1


At least it's an alternative to Global Warming.....
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Instead of wasting space on the US economy I'm just going to say

red green red green red green red green.......then ________


(insert what you think it will be)

I'm off later every1
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
8,007.55 +10.27 (+0.13%)


yay! (back in the green)

LOL
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting aspectre:
24. Hurricane4Lex RE 21: "what does meteors have to do with winter?

meteorology


LOL!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
24. Hurricane4Lex RE 21: "what does meteors have to do with winter?

meteorology
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Doh!

7,991.23 -6.05 (-0.08%)

back in the red
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
93. IKE
GM hits lowest price since Depression

Shares on the stock market.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting TampaSpin:
It looks like next weekends storm is going to hammer the midwest and east coast.....be prepared as this could be one we will talk about a long time.....The snow amounts could be record setting for this time of year....


Except for the great music,you've the bearer of bad news,cut it out
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting pottery:
I am out till tonight.
Hopefully, one of you all can invent a topic to quarrel about then.
Caterpillars is not going to do it..........


No problem.

"Baseball is the worst sport ever invented." Discuss.

LOL
Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
I am out till tonight.
Hopefully, one of you all can invent a topic to quarrel about then.
Caterpillars is not going to do it..........
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24407
Y'all should come in and say hi in the channel, watch the webcam at Portlight!
Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
lunch break
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10093
82. pottery

Everything's great man. Tim's musical suggestions got me primed this morning, and he also reminded me that I have things to do outside. Warming up nicely so I'm going out for a while before I end up with tunnels in my carpel!

Have a good one!
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 97 Comments: 32320
Hey Pottery, Rob. :)
Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
heheheheheh
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24407
Pot, not like you to insult your family that way.
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10093
Hi Sheph.
My son-in-law is Sheppard. You guys probably have genetic resemblances.......
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24407
Yeah Rob. All 4 sides, top and bottom. But I am well armed for the impending onslaught. Got my Parasol all primed and ready. And a fridge filled with Vital Supplies, getting colder.
How is life with you ?
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24407
yo pot
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10093
Hey Pottery,

Looks like you're "surrounded"
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 97 Comments: 32320
Greetings.
Heavy cloud cover, rain is threatening. A tropical wave is overhead.
All is as it should be.......
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24407
73. Cotillion

Hey!

sorry, was out listening to "Freebird"!

Seems all my memories are tied to song titles
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 97 Comments: 32320
74. TampaSpin

I hope so I hope so!

From your fingers to the snow God's ears
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Gotta run....get some things done...gotta mow the grass....sorry to say that to you all up north.....LOL...BBL
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
69 Tampa
Good ol' Flarda boys
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10093
It looks like next weekends storm is going to hammer the midwest and east coast.....be prepared as this could be one we will talk about a long time.....The snow amounts could be record setting for this time of year....
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
Greetings all.

Fairly blustery here but not too bad, had a day to forget. :)
Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
65 stream
Yep, that's a snookeroonie. 42"...
Not an unusual catch.
Keeper slot is 28 to 32 inches. Only caught one that small this year...so far.
Used to see a lot bigger when they were considered a trash fish.
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10093
RE 66 67 68 and 70:

thanks :)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Lex great website for weather photography

techniques
Member Since: Posts: Comments:

Viewing: 120 - 70

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10Blog Index

Top of Page

About

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