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Forget the Weather Service - Just watch the holly, caterpillars - Cecil Daily: Regional News

Forget the Weather Service - Just watch the holly, caterpillars

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Posted: Friday, December 2, 2011 7:30 pm

The bright colors and falling leaves of autumn soon will give way to the cold harsh winds of Old Man Winter as the calendar turns to December.

Forecasters and folklore often look at a variety of evidence to predict a region's chance for the winter's snowfall amount. The Eastern Shore  is no different as predictions point towards a drier winter, but with several big snowstorms.

While the National Weather Service and the Old Farmer's Almanac have similar outlooks, this year's winter weather could rest on woolly bear caterpillars, holly trees and a turkey breastbone.

Mount Holly, N.J., National Weather Service Meteorologist Anthony Gigi said similar to last year, this winter the Mid-Shore will experience a La Nina, which produces a weaker southern jet stream. He said though the weather pattern typically produces less snow for the mid-Atlantic, last year saw an above average snowfall amount under similar conditions.

According to the Old Farmer's Almanac, this winter in the Atlantic Corridor will be warmer and drier than normal, on average, with a chance of above average snowfall in the Mid-Atlantic. The snowiest periods are predicted to be in mid-December, mid- and late January and late February.

Winter forecasting and woolly bears intersected in 1948 when Dr. C.H. Curran, insect curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, took his wife to Bear Mountain State Park to look at woolly bear caterpillars, according to the Old Farmer's Almanac. Curran said the wider the middle brown section on the woolly bear, the milder the coming winter, while a narrow brown band predicts a harsh winter.

Roger Layton of Denton said he would love to make a prediction based off a woolly bear except he has not seen any this fall.

"I don't recall seeing any of them," he said. "Talking with some others, typically that means we could get a shorter winter but with a couple of brutal snowstorms. The woolly bears may have taken the snow bird route and headed south to avoid the brutal snows we could see."

An old waterman's folktale predicts a similar fate of above average snowfall for the Mid-Shore.

State Sen. Richard Colburn, R-37-Mid-Shore, said watermen passed a story down to new generations about how the abundance of berries on holly trees and hedges predicts how bad the winter will be.

"It's said more holly berries predicts a harsher winter," Colburn said. "This year, I've never seen so many holly berries. Everywhere I look, the trees are bursting with berries. This could make for a rough winter with lots of snow for the Mid-Shore."

Colburn said the folklore, as he understands it, draws its meaning from plants having an over-abundance of berries for animals to stock up on for the upcoming harsh winter.

"It's like the plants are taking care of the animals, making more available since things could be worse than normal," Colburn said. "Nature is making sure to supply enough."

Layton said he has not heard of the holly berries folklore, but did notice more berries than normal.

"Now that I think about it, I've seen a lot more holly berries," he said. "There could be something to that as well."

The answer for many could have come at the Thanksgiving dinner table. According to the Old Farmer's Almanac, if the breastbone of a turkey on Thanksgiving is red or has red spots, a cold and stormy winter should be expected, but the weather will be milder if there are only a few visible spots.

Also, the amount of leaves can determine what kind of winter will come. "If on the trees the leaves still hold, the coming winter will be cold," according to the Old Farmer's Almanac.

Welcome to the discussion.