According to nature, this is going to be a cold winter. Here’s what the leaves, the birds and the woolly bear caterpillars are saying, and some of the ways you can read nature’s signs to predict the weather yourself.
This is a terrible time of year to be a woolly bear caterpillar.
I see them splattered and flattened all over the long country lanes where I live. When I’m driving I try my best to avoid them (karma, as you know, can be a bitch) but sometimes, for the safety of myself and other drivers, I have no choice but to run them over. When we go on walks the road is absolutely littered with their pitiful little bodies.
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But as much as I hate to see them, I also find myself scrutinizing them. I’m keeping a tally in my head: how many of them have orange bands that are wider than the black bands, and how many have the opposite.
Why, you wonder? It’s because I use woolly bears as a way to tell the future. Or at least to tell what winter’s going to be like.
Science? Or nature? Or both?
I’m not a superstitious person. I may not always understand science, but I sure-as-heck believe in it! And yet I also believe that people and nature are interconnected and that nature tells us things all the time. I think we’ve just mostly forgotten how to listen. Or to see, as the case may be.
Before barometers, wireless weather stations or meteorologists at the National Weather Service, there was nature. Admittedly it’s not foolproof, but people have been reading signs found in the natural world to predict storms and upcoming weather patterns for tens of thousands of years.
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I grew up in Astoria, Oregon, which is an old fishing town on the west coast. I remember looking out my bedroom window toward the ocean in the morning and reciting the old folk saying, “Red sky at night, sailors delight; red sky in morning, sailors take warning” in order to gauge what weather the day might bring.
It’s a pretty reliable little rhyme rooted with a kernel of truth. A red sky at night usually means high pressure, which in turn means good weather. On the other hand, a red sky in the morning means low pressure and high water content, which can mean rain and storms.
Caterpillars as weather predictors
I know there is a big difference between a red sky and a caterpillar. One has pretty solid science to back it up, and the other is downright folksy.
In any case, here’s the legend as I know it: The bigger or longer the caterpillar’s black bands are, the longer, colder and more severe the winter will be. If the orange band is bigger than the black, supposedly it will be a milder winter.
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So, like I said before, I like science. I believe in science. And so I looked up the science of this. And of course, it’s been debunked and scorned and ridiculed by scientists for basically forever. In 1948, Dr. C. H. Curran, the curator of insects at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, collected woolly bear caterpillars, determined the average length of the orange band, and then predicted what the winter forecast would be. And for the next eight years, his forecast was right! But even he admitted that it might just be coincidence and was mostly for fun.
Even knowing this though, I still scrutinize those little caterpillar bodies. Because for the last two years, based on the length of orange bands I’ve seen, they’ve been right!
The woolly bear’s 2018-2019 winter prediction
Based on my very informal scientific study of alive (and also smooshed dead on the road) woolly bear caterpillars, I believe that here on the Oregon coast the winter is going to be much colder and rainier than it was last year.
At the risk of sounding like a backwards bumpkin, I’ve noticed some other natural signs of a hard winter. The migratory birds left earlier than usual, the husks on the corn I grew were thick and tight to the cob, and the deer and the cows look like they have thicker hair than normal. Rowan is growing in a pretty furry winter coat, too.
I think it’s pretty clear that nature is suggesting we all invest in some good umbrellas and warm sweaters.
DO YOU BELIEVE IN NATURAL SIGNS OF A HARD WINTER?
TELL ME ABOUT THEM IN THE COMMENTS!
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