Seen Your First Woolly Worm? Here’s What They Can ‘Tell’ Us About the Coming KY Winter
I don't know how they do it. They're maybe just a little more than an inch long, and you can STILL see woolly worms, or woolly bear caterpillars, crossing the highway as you're speeding right along.
Are You a Believer in the 'Powers' of the Woolly Worm?
Of course, from that perspective, it's difficult to see a design, so you can't gather what that tells you about the upcoming Kentucky winter. I've already seen what I thought was a woolly worm and thought, "Uh-oh, that's awfully early." But what is it about these critters that helps us take a better stab at predicting the weather? And if you see one, you might not be seeing what you think you're seeing. Go to the 1:23 mark and you'll see what I mean.
Yeah, if you saw one of those leopard moths and thought it was a woolly worm, you might have thought we are in for big trouble this winter. But tap the brakes; you're off a species.
How Exactly Does a Woolly Worm 'Predict' the Winter?
With that in mind, why exactly did this particular caterpillar become...well...a weather bellwether? For that, I consulted the National Weather Service.
According to folklore, the amount of black on the woolly bear in autumn varies proportionately with the severity of the coming winter in the locality where the caterpillar is found. The longer the woolly bear's black bands, the longer, colder, snowier, and more severe the winter will be. Similarly, the wider the middle brown band is associated with a milder upcoming winter. The position of the longest dark bands supposedly indicates which part of winter will be coldest or hardest. If the head end of the caterpillar is dark, the beginning of winter will be severe. If the tail end is dark, the end of winter will be cold. In addition, the woolly bear caterpillar has 13 segments to its body, which traditional forecasters say correspond to the 13 weeks of winter.
Now, since it IS the National Weather Service--you know, a SCIENCE-BASED agency--they turn right around and "demyth" all of the above:
Even though it is widely believed that the woolly bear caterpillar can predict the upcoming winter's severity, the truth is that this caterpillar can't predict what Old Man Winter has in store for us in the upcoming winter. The woolly bear caterpillar's coloring is based on how long caterpillar has been feeding, its age, and species.
However, if you regard their science as cynicism, this should make you feel better:
You know, between the Farmer's Almanac, the woolly bear caterpillar, and the upcoming Frymire forecast, we could get a big old bag of mixed signals about winter 2023-2024. Here's what I know. When the time comes--whether the winter is mild or not--I'll be pulling my hoodies and sweaters out of their respective totes. I actually look forward to doing that.