Old-timers in Appalachia have many ways of predicting snow-fall and the harshness of winter. Among them are observing various plants and animals, the amount of acorns and other foods that animals rely on in the winter, observing clouds and/or smoke, counting the number of rainy days in the summer, judging the thickness of a horse or cow’s coat and many others. Perhaps the most reliable is the old rock on a string contraption – when the rock is wet, it is raining, when it is moving, the wind is blowing, if it is white, it is snowing and if you can’t see it, it is foggy! (go figure)
Among the most peculiar and popular predictors of winter weather is the Woolly Worm. A woolly worm is essentially a variety of hairy caterpillar that is commonly found in the Appalachian Mountains in the fall. Interestingly, the hair on the “worm” grows in 13 rings which equal the number of weeks in the winter season. The woolly worm’s hair grows either black or brown – the ratio of black to brown hair on each ring is believed by many to be a predictor of winter weather in the week corresponding to the ring.
The annual Woolly Worm Festival took place last week in Banner Elk, NC. The worm judged to be the official predictor of winter weather is chosen through Woolly Worm races. This year’s winner was a worm named Wilbur, entered by 9 year-old Noah Jens from Chapel Hill. Wilbur beat out 1,124 other Woolly Worms in this heated competition!