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Woolly worms, almanac; pick one

The weather sages have spoken: The coming winter will be milder and slightly drier than normal with below-normal snowfall.

Saturday, September 18, 1999

The weather sages have spoken: The coming winter will be milder and slightly drier than normal with below-normal snowfall.

This past week, the millennium edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac hit the newsstands, carrying with it the much-awaited annual weather forecast.

Here’s what the almanac has to say about the winter of 1999-2000:

"November and December will be milder than normal, with mostly light snow in late November and mid-December. Although Thanksgiving will be white, Christmas will be mild and damp. January will be much colder, with widespread snow in the first 10 days and with the coldest temperatures of the season late in the month. February and March will be milder than normal, despite a couple of cold spells. Expect unusually warm weather with heavy rain during February. March will be drier, with alternating warm and cold spells."

That doesn’t sound too terribly ominous.

Of course, the almanac has been known to be wrong. Remember the blizzard that paralyzed the Tri-State just a few years ago? Well, the almanac made nary a mention of a blizzard or heavy snowfall when it predicted that winter’s weather.

The almanac’s forecasters traditionally have remained faceless and nameless, so there is no way of asking them what methods they use to make their predictions. The forecasts could be made by just plain guesswork for all the public knows.

We always have folklore upon which to base our predictions, though. Are your livestock animals growing an extra-thick layer of hair? Is the bark on your trees thicker than normal this year? Both supposedly foretell a severe winter is ahead.

There are those who use duck feathers tossed in the air – sort of like reading tea leaves – and there are others who swear the number of morning fogs in August is linked to the number of snowfalls in the coming winter.

We cannot forget the venerable woolly worm as we look at weather prognosticators.

This little caterpillar has been viewed for decades and decades as an accurate seer. The darker and thicker the woolly worm’s fur, the more severe the upcoming winter allegedly will be.

Thus far this autumn, no one has spotted a woolly worm and reported the color or thickness of its coat.

So, if you happen to see a woolly worm, let us know what colors ­ black, brown or a combination of colored bands – you spotted.

According to other weather-related folklore, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of the past week predicted the weather for the next three months. Whatever the weather was on Wednesday ­ fair, sunny and mild ­ supposedly will be echoed in October. Friday marked the trend for November, and Saturday supposedly foretold whether December’s winds will be mild and mellow or frozen blasts.

The bottom line is that your guess is as good as ours.

Jennifer Allen is publisher of The Ironton Tribune.