Woolly Worms as Weather Forecasters
A Journey into Hidden America
We hear so much every February 2 about groundhogs predicting an early or late Spring. By contrast, we hear virtually nothing about a comparable event that takes place in the Fall.
Each October, Banner Elk, North Carolina hosts and event whose central element is the prediction of the severity of the upcoming winter by worms.
Back in the late 1970s, the editor of the now-defunct Mountain Living Magazine, Jim Morton, was preparing to include a Woolly Worm Forecast in the winter issue of the magazine. He photographed the first Woolly Worm he saw to use in formulating the prediction and illustrating his story, but the next day he saw a second worm that looked completely different from the first.
“That’s when it struck me that we needed some formal procedure to use to decide which was going to be the official worm for making the winter forecast,” said Morton.
So since 1978, the residents of the village nestled between the Carolina’s largest ski resorts have celebrated the coming of the snow season with a Woolly Worm Festival. They set aside the third weekend in October to determine which one worm will have the honor of predicting the severity of the coming winter; and they make that worm earn the honor by winning heat after heat of hard-fought races – up a three-foot length of string.
The Woolly Bear caterpillar has 13 brown and black segments, which the late Charles Von Canon explained to the small crowd that huddled together in the sub-freezing temperatures at the first Woolly Worm Festival correspond to the 13 weeks of winter. The lighter brown a segment is, the milder that week of winter will be. The darker black a segment is, the colder and snowier the corresponding week will be.
“If you went solely by the attendance figures, you probably wouldn’t call the first festival a success,” recalled Morton. “But WCYB-TV in Bristol sent a cameraman and their report ended up being broadcast nationwide by NBC News. That national TV coverage was really what gave me the motivation to want to keep the event going.”
Now more than 15,000 routinely show up.
We pray for the folks in the Carolinas who have sustained so much damage – physically and emotionally – in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. To ourbest knowledge the Woolly Worm Festival is being staged as planned.
We hope the worms help point the region in the right direction.