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John Fulton

John Fulton
Former County Extension Director

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In The Backyard

Horticulture columns and tips done on a timely basis
Woolly Bear Caterpillar

Natural and Folklore Predictors of Winter Weather

Posted by John Fulton -

The hard freeze of last weekend ended the growing season for unprotected plants. Protected meant really protected, not just covered with a sheet. Well, guess what season is coming our way. The National Weather Service has issued its weather forecast for the coming winter. It looks like the predictions, flavored by the strong El Niño, show our area to have an above average chance of warmer weather and equal to below normal for precipitation chances. It's the chance blizzard that tends to catch us by surprise. The different weather services do offer up the statement something to the effect "there will be variations in temperatures and precipitation." Anyway, here are a few of the folklore predictors.

We've all heard about the woolybear caterpillar as a winter severity predictor, and with as many different interpretations of the woolybear as there are – somebody is always right. A larger middle (orange segment) means a milder winter. Of course, you have to have a banded woolybear to have the different colors. Another one says if they are white, this means a lot of snow. All black means a cold winter. Also if they are really bushy, it will be cold. In reality, there are several species, and the younger ones are usually white, or light colored, and they turn dark as they age.

Other predictors of a tough or cold winter have included plentiful berries and nuts, very bushy squirrel tails, tough apple skins, thicker than normal corn husks, early migration of the Monarch butterfly, high ant hills in July, etc. My best predictor has been the cost of energy – the higher the price, the more I will need of it. Even in a mild winter we will have some cold snaps, and it is – after all – winter.

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