Woolly Worm Winning Worm,

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The woolly worm owned by Katie Berry of Boone, NC; amateur weatherman, Ray Russell and most of the region’s meteorologist agree with our own assessment published weeks ago – that the coming winter of 2006-2007 will be snowier and colder than normal. Well sort of, maybe. Read on for clarification.

The 29th Annual Woolly Worm Festival was held Saturday and Sunday under some of the prettiest skies and awe-inspiring leaf color seen in years. Some of the higher elevations are past peak now, but it’s safe to say that most of the region is only slightly past peak with some of the prettiest color still evident.

The winning worm, “Jerry Garcia” took home the top money ($1075) and claimed the right to be the worm used to forecast the coming winter. We’re thinking that some global “worming” freak got to Tommy Burleson, Dr. Ray Russell and/or “Mr. Woolly Worm” – Roy Crege because the prediction made using Jerry Garcia showed that the winning worm wasn’t all that “Grateful” over his earnings! Maybe it’s because winner, Katie Berry of Boone, NC shared her winnings with some out of town friends, Meghan and Lauren Southworth of Greensboro, NC, rather than fuzzy little Jerry.

I was only a couple of feet off-stage a couple of years ago when I witnessed the three “worm readers” creatively reading some black fuzz that wasn’t even on the winning worm that year. I chuckled as the 7’2” Tommy Burleson was hunched over and on one knee getting a closer look. After a good look at the winning worm that year, his eyes met with Russell and Krege’s and it was obvious that someone was going to have tough time finding dark fur on that almost all light brown critter! Not surprisingly they “found” some dark fuzz and came up with a passable winter forecast.

Fast forward to Saturday. The winning worm actually only had three bands of black and the rest was a nice deeper tone of brown. According to the Banner Elk festival hosts, that should have made for a snowy first month of winter. …and for the last eight week? Cold but not much in the way of snow.

So what did the three judges determine? JUST ABOUT THAT! Hey, where’s the creative fuzz reading when we need it? Come on!

Here’s the official reading of the “we wish he was gratefully dead – Jerry Garcia (the worm)”

Week 1 – Cold & Snowy
Week 2 – Cold & light snow
Week 3 – Cold & Snowy
Week 4 – Cold & Snowy
Weeks 5-11 – Seasonably cool but no snow
Weeks 12-13 – Cold & light snow


We going to borrow from the National Football League and do a little replay booth of our own. We did a little slight of hand and kidnapped the winning worm for a few seconds. (The owners never knew…) and we focused our 7 mega-pixel camera on him and snapped a photo. We then sent that in an email to our staff entomologist, I. Readworms Better. (Longtime readers will remember Dr. Better from an article of 2005 – click here to read.) 

You can read the entire article if you want, but the summary of it was this little tidbit of information. The woolly worms of winter weather forecasting fame are almost always black at each end with a reddish brown band in the middle.

So Dr. Better, you’re saying that MOST every worm has the same coloration?

"Yes, there are some anomalies, but most every woolly worm has the same band markings. If you put 1000 worms in a box together you’ll note that only a few will have different markings."

Dr. Better, we REMEMBER the winning worm of 2004 and that darn thing was almost light brown from one end to the other. You’re saying that was a fluke?

"Yes, just bum luck really."

So HOW SHOULD our guys be reading these little weather barometers?

"The SIZE of the brown band is said to be an indicator of winter’s severity. The narrower the band, the harsher the winter. If woolly worms are more brown than black and the middle band tends toward orange, that indicates the winter will be mild."

Awwwww….MAN! We’re looking for a break here!

So no matter which way we read old Jerry Garcia…he’s not predicting much of a winter. We Run a Democracy Around Here and to that end let’s go at this a little more scientifically.

Uh…Dr. Ray, what do YOU say? Dr. Ray Russell of amateur weather fame likes to go up against the fuzzy little woolly worm each year with his head-to-head winter forecast. Within minutes of hearing the not-so-resort-friendly forecast, Ray revealed HIS 2006-2007 winter forecast. Coincidentally (and thankfully) his forecast looks amazingly close to what we wrote back on September 8th.

Ray’s forecast is for 120% to 130% of normal snowfall. NOW WE’RE TALKING!

That would make for 50-55” around Boone, North Carolina; 54-59” in Banner Elk and 100-108” on Beech Mountain! Most weather gurus are saying that most of the Appalachian Mountains will see some good snows this winter. So the Southeast’s resorts from North Carolina to Maryland should be pretty happy reading this.

Dr. Russell also forecasts that our winter temps will fall about one degree below normal. Global Warming…BAH!

Quoting Dr. Ray, he says, “While one can never have great "confidence" in a long range forecast, we are a bit more "confident" in this forecast than in most years. Weak El Niño winters have relatively clear tendencies. Last year’s neutral signal from the Pacific created an "Al Gore Winter"-"no controlling authority."

Here’s Ray Russell’s Winter Forecast:

1 Cold & Snowy
2 Normal temps; Light snow
3 Mild, No Snow
4 Cold & Snowy
5 Normal temps; Light snow
6 Cold & Snowy
7 Mild, No Snow
8 Cold & Snowy
9 Cold & Snowy
10 Normal temps; Light snow
11 Cold & Snowy
12 Cold & Snowy
13 Mild, No Snow

* That’s including the “snow word” in ten of twelve weeks this winter!


Here we are nearing the end of October and thus far we’ve heard from The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the Woolly Worm, and Ray Russell. Two out of three of them agree with our September assessment – It’s GOING to be a colder and snowier winter than normal.

We posted a new Ski Poll last week and thus far 80% of you guys agree that it will be a cold, snowy 2006-2007 winter!

There’s a HUGE “BUZZ” Agreeing with us!

At numerous gatherings in the last couple of months I have heard the comment that a healthy bee population translates to more snow the following winter. DON’T ROLL YOUR EYES AT ME!!! Check out www.greathoney.com (see???!)

No kidding. I’ve lived in the mountains since 1990 and I have never seen as many bees, dive buzzing people as this fall. Christmas tree growers have informed me that they have seen an inordinate amount of bees burrowing nest underground at tree farms all across the region. They too state that this is a sign of a strong, snowy winter. According to them, the bees are looking for the snow to insulate them.

In summary…it’s going to cold and snowy this winter. Count on it. We’re still awaiting word from the professional meteorologists who frequent SkiNorthCarolina.com and SkiSoutheast.com, but until then we’ll take the word of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, NOAA, Our Trusty Weather Dartboard, The Bees and Ray Russell. To Jerry Garcia, the worm…BAH!

Until Next Time…Ski Season is less than a month away!

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Rodney Hartsell submitted this nice shot (you have to click to enlarge for best view) of Cataloochee on this past Sunday.
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