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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470. sporteguy03
2:00 PM GMT on November 22, 2008
Philadelphia Freedom!
Member Since: July 7, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 5414
469. ftpiercecane
3:03 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Quoting RobDaHood:
447. stillwaiting

I was born in Tampa and have lived in FL all my life, though I have traveled far and wide.

I guess I must be one of the "Hicks" you refer to. And by the way, Florida USED to be a much nicer place. For one thing, most of us "Hicks" were raised with better manners than to post anything like you just did.

amen to that, native floridian myself
Member Since: October 9, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 204
468. stillwaiting
3:01 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Quoting RobDaHood:
447. stillwaiting

I was born in Tampa and have lived in FL all my life, though I have traveled far and wide.

I guess I must be one of the "Hicks" you refer to. And by the way, Florida USED to be a much nicer place. For one thing, most of us "Hicks" were raised with better manners than to post anything like you just did.



when did I say ALL Floridains were hicks?????,heck I was born in orlando,I just grew up in CT...and there are alot of kick a$$ people in FL...I was referring to a Type of southerner,us northerners call hicks!!!(usually very closed minded and racists)
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 20 Comments: 4970
466. pearlandaggie
3:00 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
464. gotta link for that?
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
465. Orcasystems
3:00 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
New blog
Member Since: October 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26511
464. Cotillion
2:59 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Let's just flag and ignore the troll; I did weeks ago. :)

That's what the tools are there for.

Amazingly on the ACE levels, despite 16 storms and 4 Category Four hurricanes, it is not in the top tier since 1950. (Hyperactive.) Unless the post-season reports jump the ACE considerably, it'll likely stay like that.
Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
463. TampaSpin
2:59 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Quoting stillwaiting:
I forgot its like high school on the board,don't mess w/the popular kids....lol...2yrs on the board and I still have zero people on ignore,I doubt that I'm not open minded!!!!,one things for sure there are alot of insecure people that frequent this blog unfortunately,but I'll hang in there!!!!


You really don't have to hang in there if you don't want too....ROFLMAO
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20448
462. RobDaHood
2:59 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
460. vortfix

Wow, impressive pics!
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 99 Comments: 32819
461. NEwxguy
2:59 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
GM all,see the blog is riled up already.
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 886 Comments: 15948
459. stillwaiting
2:56 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
I forgot its like high school on the board,don't mess w/the popular kids....lol...2yrs on the board and I still have zero people on ignore,I doubt that I'm not open minded!!!!,one things for sure there are alot of insecure people that frequent this blog unfortunately,but I'll hang in there!!!!
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 20 Comments: 4970
458. TampaSpin
2:56 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Orca its your fault for bring in the box of cornflakes......LOL
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20448
457. RobDaHood
2:55 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
447. stillwaiting

I was born in Tampa and have lived in FL all my life, though I have traveled far and wide.

I guess I must be one of the "Hicks" you refer to. And by the way, Florida USED to be a much nicer place. For one thing, most of us "Hicks" were raised with better manners than to post anything like you just did.
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 99 Comments: 32819
456. TampaSpin
2:55 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Quoting RobDaHood:
444. stillwaiting

Okay, that would be an example of a personal attack and they are not well tolerated here...please refrain.


Rob its all good.....im a little more mature to know what i like on my CornFlakes.....LMAO
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20448
455. pearlandaggie
2:55 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
from the Atlanta Urinal Constipation...

Weather Channel lays off staff
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
454. Orcasystems
2:52 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Quoting RTLSNK:
Grandma and Grandpa are babysitting the "little angel" this morning while daughter goes to the doctor to find out when "little Jake" will be arriving. Two grandchildren, it doesn't get any better than that! BBL


I only have the one... 7 year old Grandson :)
I like grandkids much more then kids.. they go home after a few hours :)
Member Since: October 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26511
453. pearlandaggie
2:51 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
hmmm....such a nice atmosphere in here this morning! LOL
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
452. Orcasystems
2:51 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
444. stillwaiting 2:46 PM GMT on November 21, 2008

Uncalled for.. poof gone
Member Since: October 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26511
451. TampaSpin
2:50 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Quoting RobDaHood:
431. Cotillion

Tim's frustration is understandable. Someone tells you they can't figure out how to post an image wishing everyone a happy thanksgiving, so you spend time teaching them, then they post something that they know will be inflammatory. It's very disappointing and makes you think twice before helping the next person.


Exactly.....that was the complete problem...i will not help anyone again that i don't know.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20448
450. Cotillion
2:50 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Well, either way; enjoy your Thanksgiving Americans. Short work week, excuse for gluttony (And a warm-up for Christmas I suppose) and perhaps a bit of snow for the cause for some parts, with any luck? (I know Bone would appreciate it...)

Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
449. RobDaHood
2:49 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
444. stillwaiting

Okay, that would be an example of a personal attack and they are not well tolerated here...please refrain.
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 99 Comments: 32819
448. RTLSNK
2:49 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Grandma and Grandpa are babysitting the "little angel" this morning while daughter goes to the doctor to find out when "little Jake" will be arriving. Two grandchildren, it doesn't get any better than that! BBL
Member Since: September 3, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 21545
447. stillwaiting
2:48 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
some of the people down here are so close minded,its OK,because there are more people from up north moving down here...and everyone knows that we run things down here anyway,the hicks just still live here....anyone notice what color FL was for the election????BLUE!!!!!
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 20 Comments: 4970
446. TampaSpin
2:48 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Quoting stillwaiting:




maybe your cornflakes would taste better if I gave you some of my liberal Pi$$ to soften it up for your hick w/no teeth redneck mouth to eat them with...so there nice an soft for you!!!!...lol...my friend.....


Now see i would have never know your true colors until you just showed the whole world the real you. Thank you for the Discovery for all to see......you are so very welcome.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20448
445. Patrap
2:47 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Whoa...Political Banter is fine here,.but as a rule.."I'll flag every post that gigs a Rep or Democrat,or Indy."

Millions of Armed Force Personnel are Dems too.
As well as the choice any individual makes.

Respect that or get a 24 Ban

And Good Morning to the chilly South and frozen North
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129090
444. stillwaiting
2:46 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Quoting TampaSpin:


ROFLMAO, Freaking Liberals.........LOL




maybe your cornflakes would taste better if I gave you some of my liberal Pi$$ to soften it up for your hick w/no teeth redneck mouth to eat them with...so there nice an soft for you!!!!...lol...my friend.....
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 20 Comments: 4970
443. Orcasystems
2:46 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Quoting RobDaHood:
431. Cotillion

Tim's frustration is understandable. Someone tells you they can't figure out how to post an image wishing everyone a happy thanksgiving, so you spend time teaching them, then they post something that they know will be inflammatory. It's very disappointing and makes you think twice before helping the next person.


Mind you.... Tim appears to be in rare form this morning :)

Politics..and now the stock market :)
ROFL now all we need is a post on religion and GW to make it complete.
Sorry Tim, could not resist.
Member Since: October 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26511
442. TampaSpin
2:45 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
History usually shows that the Week before Thanksgiving and the month of December the DOW usually does little to change.......lets see if that holds true now.....
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20448
441. RobDaHood
2:43 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
431. Cotillion

Tim's frustration is understandable. Someone tells you they can't figure out how to post an image wishing everyone a happy thanksgiving, so you spend time teaching them, then they post something that they know will be inflammatory. It's very disappointing and makes you think twice before helping the next person.
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 99 Comments: 32819
440. TampaSpin
2:43 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
I wonder what will happen today.....????

Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20448
439. TampaSpin
2:40 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Quoting Cotillion:


I think we can excuse an Irish coffee or two ;)


Thanks i will take you up on that.....lol..ok i have calmed down now.....lol
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20448
438. RobDaHood
2:38 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Orca,

So I've heard. My parents were there recently, a side-trip on the way to Alaska. They loved it.
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 99 Comments: 32819
437. Cotillion
2:33 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Quoting TampaSpin:


LOL...aw it aint that bad....its just that one individual keep ask how to post a video then when i showed him.....he post garbage on the blog....that pissed me off.....sorry to vent this way....dam i can't start drinking this early can i......lol


I think we can excuse an Irish coffee or two ;)
Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
436. Orcasystems
2:33 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Quoting RobDaHood:
Goodmorning to you too, Orca. Starting to have 2nd thoughts about my interest in visiting your fair island...LOL...not this month at least.


I know this will be hard for you to believe, but due to geographical features.. about 90% of this stuff does not even effect Victoria. If we go out of town about 30 miles it sure does.

From Wiki:

Total annual precipitation is just 608 mm (24in) at the Gonzales weather station in Victoria, contrasted to nearby Seattle, (137 km/85 miles away to the southeast), with 970mm (38in) of rainfall, or Vancouver, 100 km away, with 1,219 mm (48 in) of rainfall. Perhaps even more dramatic is the difference in rainfalls on Vancouver Island. Port Renfrew, just 80 km from Victoria on the wet southwest coast of Vancouver Island receives 3,671 mm (145 in). Even the Victoria Airport, 25 km north of the city, receives about 45 per cent more precipitation than the city proper.
Member Since: October 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26511
435. TampaSpin
2:32 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Quoting Cotillion:
Tim, if you're like this with liberals, I'd hate to see what you're like with socialists...


LOL...aw it aint that bad....its just that one individual keep ask how to post a video then when i showed him.....he post garbage on the blog....that pissed me off.....sorry to vent this way....dam i can't start drinking this early can i......lol
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20448
434. RobDaHood
2:31 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Goodmorning to you too, Orca. Starting to have 2nd thoughts about my interest in visiting your fair island...LOL...not this month at least.
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 99 Comments: 32819
433. IKE
2:30 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Quoting Cotillion:
Maybe he's recharging his batteries, Ike?

Been a long season.

When does the countdown for '09 start?:p


After the 2008 season officially ends in less than 10 days...
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
432. Cotillion
2:29 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Maybe he's recharging his batteries, Ike?

Been a long season.

When does the countdown for '09 start?:p
Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
431. Cotillion
2:28 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Tim, if you're like this with liberals, I'd hate to see what you're like with socialists...
Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
430. IKE
2:28 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Whatever happened to StormW?

His last entry....

Posted by: StormW, 8:33 AM CST on November 10, 2008
Hey everyone!

I will be out of the office most of the week, but will be in the monitoring mode. I will update the blog should anything arise.

"Storm"
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
429. TampaSpin
2:27 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Quoting Orcasystems:


ROFLMAO, who's been ummmmm playing in your cornflakes this morning?


ROFLMAO, Freaking Liberals.........LOL
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20448
428. Orcasystems
2:23 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Quoting TampaSpin:
OH sorry, Good morning everyone......lol


ROFLMAO, who's been ummmmm playing in your cornflakes this morning?
Member Since: October 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26511
427. TampaSpin
2:23 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Nice Clipper head SouthEast...

Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20448
426. Orcasystems
2:22 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Quoting Orcasystems:


Quoting RTLSNK:
420 - Orca - Holy Cow Batman, is that thing what everybody was talking about last week?


We get stuff like that fairly often up here this time of year. If we are not getting the remnants from some Typhoon, or the pineapple express from Hawaii, these would be the normal winter storms.
Member Since: October 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26511
425. TampaSpin
2:19 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
OH sorry, Good morning everyone......lol
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20448
424. RTLSNK
2:18 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
420 - Orca - Holy Cow Batman, is that thing what everybody was talking about last week?
Member Since: September 3, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 21545
423. TampaSpin
2:18 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Quoting sporteguy03:
Geoffrey,
Thank you for the Butterball update on turkeys.


Geoffrey can take his liberal crap out of here, and stick the turkey someplace only his fellow DEMS heads are usually at!
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20448
422. Orcasystems
2:18 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Quoting RTLSNK:
417 - Orca - Hey Canuck - good to hear from you, everything still alive at your place? Have been using your blog to throw a few parties, probably should have invited you huh?
ROFLMAO


I see that :)
Been up to my A in alligators, the last few days.. but it all appears to be coming together.. so I should have more time to slack off and play here.

You have to hate it when reality and business screw up a hobby.
Member Since: October 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26511
421. RTLSNK
2:16 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
417 - Orca - Hey Canuck - good to hear from you, everything still alive at your place? Have been using your blog to throw a few parties, probably should have invited you huh?
ROFLMAO
Member Since: September 3, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 21545
420. Orcasystems
2:14 PM GMT on November 21, 2008
Anyone want to trade weather today?



WIND WARNING: Greater Victoria, Issued at 4:37 AM PST FRIDAY 21 NOVEMBER 2008

STRONG WINDS UP TO 90 TO 110 KM/H ARE EXPECTED TO DEVELOP NORTH AND WEST OF VANCOUVER ISLAND. STRONG WINDS 60 GUSTING TO 90 KM/H ARE EXPECTED TO DEVELOP LATER THIS MORNING OVER THE SOUTH COAST. THIS IS A WARNING THAT POTENTIALLY DAMAGING WINDS ARE EXPECTED OR OCCURRING IN THESE REGIONS. MONITOR WEATHER CONDITIONS..LISTEN FOR UPDATED STATEMENTS
Member Since: October 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26511

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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.