Lisa Nicely

Hark, do you see them?

Those slinking lowly worms,

Whose forecasts are surely worth

Those little squirms.

The natural winter weather forecasters are back.

I’m talking about the woolly worms, aka woolly bear caterpillars. For those of you who don’t know, these little guys have been used to predict how bad the winter weather is going to be for hundreds of years. I’ve always heard the darker and woollier they are, the worse the winter will be. The ones I’ve seen lately have been very dark.

See, the woolly worm has a baker’s dozen hair segments on it that typically range from orange to jet black. Supposedly, the wider the sections are, the milder (more orange or brown) or more severe (jet black) the winter will be.

In the late 1940s, Dr. Howard C. Curran of the American Museum of Natural History in New York decided to conduct some experiments to find out if the old wives’ tale about the woolly worms were true. From 1948-56, he collected woolly worms near Bear Mountain State Park and recorded what they looked like and the winter weather for each year. He found that in those samples he took, the more orange/brown the woolly worm was, the milder the winter.

At the time, Curran cautioned that he only conducted his study with a small sampling of woolly worms, and a larger sampling would be needed to fully confirm the caterpillars’ weather forecasting abilities. As far as I’m aware, no one has tackled that challenge yet.

But there are many other ways to predict the weather over the winter.

According to the “Old Farmers’ Almanac” for 2018-19, this winter will see above average temperatures with near normal snowfall. The National Weather Service also is predicting an equal chance of above or below average precipitation and above average temperatures.

I don’t know. The woolly worm makes a pretty good counter-argument.

I’m not the weather predictor here at the newspaper, but I’ve decided to mix everything together and come up with my own predictions. So here is my forecast for this winter (and yes, I do know winter doesn’t officially start until Dec. 21, but when has Old Man Winter ever held off snow/sleet/freezing rain until the solstice).

So here we go:

November — Umbrella. Prepare winter reading list. Let’s get those extra blankets out just in case...

December — Shovel, space heater, more shoveling. I may need Bunny Bread bags for my boots before I go out and shovel again. Prepare blanket cocoon and read some of winter reading list while getting warm.

January — Oh look, it’s snow. No, wait ... rain. Now, it’s snowing again. Where’s that shovel? How did I make it through that reading list already? Let’s see what’s on the shelves.

February — Blah. Is it spring soon?

The good news is that before all this winter stuff starts, my favorite time of year comes first — fall (and Halloween).

I love the crispness in the air, and the knowledge that there is some hot apple cider somewhere with my name on it. There’s also the joy of Halloween. I haven’t gotten my decorations up yet, but they will be soon. I’m sure I’ll get some help from my neighbor, Cooper, who lets me know right away when I don’t have something up where it should go. He’s very thorough about it, especially the placement of the skeleton “Bones.”

I’m also planning to take some nice walks in the woods and maybe visit a troll or two at the Morton Arboretum with some nieces and nephews. It will be a nice little adventure.

I hope you all can get out there and enjoy the fall because, remember, winter is just around the corner — the calendar and the woolly worm told me so.

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