WASHINGTON – Bundle up, Maryland. The furry winter prophet has spoken and said it’s going to be a long, colder-than-normal winter, beginning in late November and continuing through the end of March.
Officials at the Hagers-town Town and Country Almanack reached that conclusion Wednesday after studying the three-band markings of 632 woolly bear caterpillars that were turned into the almanac’s “woolly bear headquarters.” According to folklore, winter’s severity is foretold by measuring the wooly bear’s front and rear black bands, which represents the first and second halves of winter.
“The woolly bears have predicted, by the length of its front and back bands, that the coming winter is going to be very cold and wet,” said Gerald Spessard, the business manager of the Hagers-town Town and Country Almanack.
“The front band and the back band were similar in length and longer than normal. That means a more severe winter,” Spessard said.
The “woolly bear prediction” was similar to the outlook posted for the mid-Atlantic region last month by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — although the federal agency based its prediction on science and satellite imagery, not furry caterpillars.
NOAA officials said that the “record warm winters may be over, as normal winter weather returns.”
When asked about the similarities between their forecast and the wooly bear’s, authorities at the NOAA asserted that they “do not acknowledge the almanac predictions.”
“We don’t compare our methods or findings to that of the woolly bears,” said Wayne Higgins, a senior meteorologist at the Climate Prediction Center. “However our studies have predicted a colder winter this year. This is primarily because La Nina and El Nino are out of the way.
“We also expect cooler temperatures in Maryland and the mid-Atlantic region compared to the South and Western parts of the country where, based on a long-term trend, we have found that the temperatures have been moving upwards,” said Higgins. “This trend is much less so in the mid-Atlantic region. There is a good chance for above-normal precipitation.”
Not all of the almanac’s predictions are based on the woolly bear: Bill O’Toole, the almanac’s weather prognosticator and a computer instructor at Mount St. Mary’s College, said he uses scientific models to help predict other elements of the coming winter.
O’Toole is predicting, for example, that the winter will total 129 days, from Nov. 23 to March 31, of which 103 days will have temperatures below 32 degrees.
“We expect more snow and storms this winter,” O’Toole said, whose forecast calls for 23 storms that will total 50 inches of snow, compared to the normal 34 inches.
“But these are based on a scientific approach and has nothing to do with the woolly bears,” he said.