Forecast for the winter of 2005-2006:: Part I, the woolly bears

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:52 PM GMT on November 08, 2005

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And now for something completely different: the woolly bear caterpillar forecast for the coming winter. After months of focusing on the death and destruction wrought by the fury of nature's hurricanes, and now tornadoes, it's time to take a break. The tropics remain quiet again today, allowing us to indulge. The political discussions can wait until another day.

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 is thick, the winter will be a mild one. A narrow brown stripe portends a long, cold winter.

The Hagerstown, Maryland Town and Country Almanack has been publishing weather forecasts and weather lore for 209 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. Gerald W. Spessard, the Town and Country Almanack's business manager and one of this year's two judges, observed that the middle brown stripes on the 20 caterpillars collected this year were thicker than usual. "There's not a whole lot of black at either end, so we both agree this should be a fairly mild winter," Spessard said, according to an AP press release.

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. The Hagerstown critters have had mixed success the past three years with their forecasts--they've been correct about half the time. This is only slightly worse than the official NOAA long range forecasts.

Several scientific studies have been done on woolly bear caterpillar forecasts, including one by the American Museum of Natural History. None of these studies have shown any correlation between woolly bear markings and the severity of the upcoming winter. According to Ned Rozell, science writer at the University of Alaska's Geophysical Institute, Biologist Dr. Charles Curran began studying woolly bear markings and the severity of winters in 1948. For the first three years, the caterpillars had wide brown bands, correctly forecasting three consecutive mild winters. The caterpillars failed the next year, and 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.

So, you're probably better off using the official NOAA long-range forecast for the upcoming winter--although not by much. I'll discuss the official NOAA forecast for the upcoming winter tomorrow, and talk about how well they've done in past years.

Jeff Masters

wooly bear catepiller (Olbetsy)
These are all over in the fall
wooly bear catepiller

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89. sherrb
2:00 AM GMT on November 10, 2005
In Oklahoma the persimmon seed test indicates we will have a warm, wet winter here
88. WeatherWeasel
4:21 PM GMT on November 09, 2005
Have not seen a wooly since I left Maryland years ago...but I'm a hairy guy, so I just base my prediction on the hair on my legs...it's going to be a cold winter here in south Florida, I might actually have to wear a sweatshirt for a few days this winter, brrrrrr...
There are 3 types of people down here:
Snowbirds - only here for winter
Re-located - moved here to stay from up north
Natives - born and raised in south Florida

Snowbirds never need a coat or jacket.
Re-located, might need a jacket, depending on how long they have been here.
Natives - wear a coat if the temp drops below 70. Hat and gloves if it drops below 60.
Member Since: October 18, 2005 Posts: 1 Comments: 50
87. oriondarkwood
3:08 PM GMT on November 09, 2005
I just posted some more photos if anyone wants to take a look
Member Since: July 5, 2004 Posts: 51 Comments: 42
86. Catskills
1:19 PM GMT on November 09, 2005
Eureka - at last - a definitive study on the woolly bear! They're just like us. The Alaska study proves it. The 'bears' who correctly predicted the three mild winters in a row got complacent and were caught out. The other 'bears' lived in the same community, but had radically different opinions about whether the weather was mild or cold. :D
Member Since: June 20, 2003 Posts: 0 Comments: 0
85. iyou
4:10 AM GMT on November 09, 2005
It's okay - I've heard on the radio - wind/rain...the usual.
Member Since: July 25, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 5220
84. iyou
3:46 AM GMT on November 09, 2005
hi snowboy - I'm in T.O., will we be getting anything from that system?
Member Since: July 25, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 5220
83. snowboy
3:36 AM GMT on November 09, 2005
severe thunderstorms rumbling through Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana tonight..
Member Since: September 21, 2005 Posts: 10 Comments: 2555
82. Destiny
2:01 AM GMT on November 09, 2005
Those little Wooly Worms would be wearing Parkas in my neck of the woods. Its about ten below with 45 mph wind gust with blowing snow. BRRRRRRRRRRRRRR

Glad to see some of you filtering back in here.
Member Since: September 1, 2002 Posts: 10 Comments: 1
81. code1
1:59 AM GMT on November 09, 2005
Thanks for the blast from the past pic Dr. M!! When I lived in KY, wooly worms (as they are called there) were pretty accurate winter forecasters, for the most part. They even have a huge long term "Wooly Worm Festival" in Beattyville, Lee Co.
Member Since: September 18, 2005 Posts: 66 Comments: 13872
80. palmettobug53
1:25 AM GMT on November 09, 2005
Man, I gotta get me one of those Weather Rocks! I'll be the envy of all my friends, with my accurate forecasting!
LOL
Member Since: October 7, 2005 Posts: 238 Comments: 25329
79. taco2me61
1:13 AM GMT on November 09, 2005
HI all just reading LOL
Member Since: July 7, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 3261
78. hurricanewayne
11:08 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
I THINK
77. oriondarkwood
9:56 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
I been away for a few days, darn reality sucking all my time. Hopefully I can post some more weather photos in a couple of days. And maybe it will finally get cold up in my neck of the woods. Sunday was 72 up here, its usually 20 degrees colder by this time of year.

Today was average (felt warmer), tommorrow suppose to be 60 before the bottom drops out tommorrow night. Thrusday suppose to be NASTY, high winds, slushy (ie sleet,snow,rain) dropping temps..
Member Since: July 5, 2004 Posts: 51 Comments: 42
76. Pensacola21
9:05 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
Awww, she's still a baby!! My mom had four of us, me: 21, my lil sis:10 and my lil brothers are 12 & 19... BIG age differences...

Anyway see ya'll later!!
Member Since: September 16, 2005 Posts: 30 Comments: 3912
75. weatherdude65
9:03 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
catch you later 21, have a good night
74. Pensacola21
9:02 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
I guess I better get back to work...

Bye Weatherdude and everyone else... See ya tomorrow =)
Member Since: September 16, 2005 Posts: 30 Comments: 3912
73. weatherdude65
9:02 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
Darth, when I lived in Maine, the only time we got snow days was when it was so bad that the busses could not drive for the visibility
72. weatherdude65
9:01 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
she's 8....she has a brother who is 13
71. Pensacola21
9:01 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
LOL, Darth.. You got that right!!
Member Since: September 16, 2005 Posts: 30 Comments: 3912
70. FloridaBorn
9:00 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
I love it! All the fancy, expensive, scientific equipment in the world isn't much better at forecasting winter than a lowly caterpillar
Member Since: June 8, 2002 Posts: 3 Comments: 11
69. DarthCainus
9:00 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
Vermillion OH had an annual Woolly Bear Festival. Dick Goddard was always promoting it. I remember from my time IL that the folks there called them woolly worms. It was always fun to find them as a kid and "predict" the winter. Of course, we hoped for as little brown as possible in hopes of a lot of snow days. No such fun for my kids down here in FL. Ok, they do get hurricane days, but snow is more fun to play in on those days off...
68. Pensacola21
8:59 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
Awww I bet... How old is she?
Member Since: September 16, 2005 Posts: 30 Comments: 3912
67. weatherdude65
8:58 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
21, she thought that it was great. To have it change on her watch, she was very excited.
66. Pensacola21
8:57 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
Bye Stormy...

That's neat Weatherdude... I bet your daughter loved it!
Member Since: September 16, 2005 Posts: 30 Comments: 3912
65. weatherdude65
8:56 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
goodnite stormy! Have a wonderful evening :-)
64. stormydee
8:45 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
well, wrapping up to go home.
Have a great night everyone!
:-)
Member Since: August 25, 2005 Posts: 39 Comments: 517
63. stormydee
8:42 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
well 65, you have better luck than I do with them...so catch him carefully and take pics when he is a butterfly :-)
Member Since: August 25, 2005 Posts: 39 Comments: 517
62. weatherdude65
8:35 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
Last year as we were getting ready to head to Tampa away from Jeanne, my daughter comes home from school with the class cocoon. We thought, great, now watch this thing die while we are in Tampa. We were getting ready to head home after the hurricane and looked at the cocoon and it was black. We thought we had killed it. We stopped at McDonalds for breakfast and when we came out there was a beautiful butterfly in the container. We then had to keep that alive until my daughter could take it back to school.
61. stormydee
8:30 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
when I was a little girl, I use to catch caterpillars all the time...Id put them in a glass jar with everything I thought they would need....they'd make a cocoon...and...that was it! I never saw it hatch, but this horrible smell would come from the jar...I guess I was missing some important ingredient they needed while cocooning....
So recently, I reflected on that as I helped my mother free a butterfly from her back porch...you can't touch them so I was trying so hard to scoop him through a screen opening with a broom handle, no less....didn't want the bristles to touch it either...luckily, I freed him and saved the day!
Member Since: August 25, 2005 Posts: 39 Comments: 517
60. weatherdude65
8:28 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
shhhhhhh....I have him cornered now lol
59. stormydee
8:27 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
ya 21, but be quiet as we give them to you so 65 can get that cat-a-pill-r :-)
Member Since: August 25, 2005 Posts: 39 Comments: 517
58. weatherdude65
8:08 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
21, you can have all of my papers if you'd like
57. Pensacola21
8:07 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
I am SO bored.... I get a rush of papers flying at me and then after that NOTHING....
Member Since: September 16, 2005 Posts: 30 Comments: 3912
56. Pensacola21
8:05 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
LOL..
Member Since: September 16, 2005 Posts: 30 Comments: 3912
55. weatherdude65
8:05 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
shhhhhhh, be vewy, vewy quiet, I'm hunting caterpillars LOL
54. Pensacola21
8:04 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
RW - I know the "have" to leave feeling (bank, etc.)... It's great when that happens! :-)
Member Since: September 16, 2005 Posts: 30 Comments: 3912
53. weatherdude65
8:03 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
stormy, the outdoor part was free :-) lol

It is a very beautiful day today, took a drive down river road.
52. rwdobson
7:49 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
Hmm, thought I had already posted this but it's not showing up...but GOOD NEWS. color pinter is on the fritz so now I "have" to leave the office and go to kinko's. woo hoo!
Member Since: June 12, 2002 Posts: 0 Comments: 1589
51. StellarCyclone
7:44 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
I love wandering's weather rock.

Like others I also think oil would be a bad idea in terms of ecology and other issues to deal with hurricanes.

And I think mouseybabe's spiral is a good way to describe the current weather situation with cycles and global warming.
50. stormydee
7:35 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
rwd - come on now, wheres your sense of adventure? Lets go hike and find some caterpillars :-)
Member Since: August 25, 2005 Posts: 39 Comments: 517
49. rwdobson
7:32 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
You have to ask yourself...how exactly do the caterpillars know what's coming? what signal of a cold or mild winter is causing the color change? and if so, couldn't we just measure that signal instead of chasing down caterpillars in the woods?
Member Since: June 12, 2002 Posts: 0 Comments: 1589
48. Jedkins
7:23 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
Nah I don't trust them folk lore stories,most of them are old wives tales anyway,some aren't completely but I never pay attention to em.
47. stormydee
7:22 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
65 - was a free-outdoor lunch today? LOL :-)
Member Since: August 25, 2005 Posts: 39 Comments: 517
46. NOLAinNC
7:18 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
The wooly bears here have thin stripes, yikes!
45. stormydee
7:18 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
LOL wanderingtexgrrl ...yes that is very true for weather!
:-)
Member Since: August 25, 2005 Posts: 39 Comments: 517
44. wanderingtexgrrl
7:07 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
Personally, I have found the weather rock to be quite accurate.
Member Since: December 30, 2003 Posts: 28 Comments: 0
43. weatherdude65
6:56 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
lunch time...be back later...I think I am going to eat outside and enjoy this wonderful weather!!!
42. weatherdude65
6:41 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
1/2 day is better than working the whole day :-)
41. mouseybabe
6:38 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
mobal...

maybe that wooly bear headed south for the winter! what would that say about this winter's forecast?

mouseybabe
40. mouseybabe
6:37 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
just my two cents re: weather trends....i've heard lots of so-called experts say that there's no global warming, we're just in that part of a normal cycle wherein we get a lot of storms...

it's my belief that this is not a cycle, it's a spiral...as the cycle spins, it goes up a notch each time due to global warming...so the storms we could expect to get are now stronger, etc...

and here's my prediction for next year's storms...a complete absence of mouseybabe whenever a storm threatens south florida...

have a great day...

mouseybabe
39. stormydee
6:34 PM GMT on November 08, 2005
ya rub it in 65....at least I only have a 1/2 day. :-)
Member Since: August 25, 2005 Posts: 39 Comments: 517

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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.

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