Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Winter Predictions: Science versus Folklore

Woolly-Bear-Caterpillar 2019

Hello Fellow Readers, While recent temperatures feel like winter, it doesn’t officially start until December 21st, which brings the topic of what to expect from Old Man Winter and the science versus folklore of winter weather predictions.

The folklore of predicting winter weather

There are heaps of folklore on winter weather predictions such as plentiful acorns and berries, thick corn husks, and squirrels gathering nuts early. If there are crickets in the chimney, halos around the moon, early rodent infestation or bird migration, and when pigs eat sticks. Then my favorite – narrow rust-colored bands on woolly bear caterpillars. All are said to be signs of a harsh winter ahead.

I heard two more recently. Janet of Belvidere NJ noticed that the deer grew dark gray winter coats. “They’re the color of mules. Also, the Burning Bushes (Euonymus alatus) were far redder this fall.” Both indications of a rough winter ahead, Janet said.

It was odd there weren’t many woolly bear caterpillars crossing the road during walks with Miss Ellie. Usually, there are dozens that I save from an ill fate by tossing them to the other side. The few we came across were fashioning various widths of bands, just as in previous years. This speaks to the truth that there’s no scientific evidence that their fuzzy-wuzzy wardrobe has anything to do with the upcoming winter forecast. The same is true of all weather-predicting folklore, but it’s still fun to think about.

There’s The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s long-range forecast. They predict winter will be warmer than usual for the Appalachian Region with more precipitation but below-normal snowfall. Late November and mid-to-late January plus early February and early March are predicted to be the snowiest. They say scientific evidence proves The Old Farmer’s Almanac is only 52 percent correct in their day-to-day forecast, although their seasonal forecast accuracy scored somewhat better.

Science versus Folklore?

Mr. Woolly Bear’s wide brown band says a mild winter ahead.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), aka the National Weather Service, is far more accurate. Reading their scientific analysis always gives me a giggle with terms like El Niño and La Niña and other climatic patterns such as Madden-Julian Oscillation. Thankfully the outlook maps are easy to understand. It looks like we’re 33 to 40 percent likely to be warmer than average with the same percent likelihood of being wetter than average. More bloody rain? Holy moly! Maybe their November 21st update will change that dismal forecast.

There’s a YouTube channel titled Direct Weather with over 76,000 subscribers, one of dear Curt’s favs. The host agrees with above-average precipitation but talks about below-average temps. And, his snowfall anomaly predictions are above average snowfall. Yippee! (Please excuse my snow dance Frosty naysayers.) Then came an intimidating graphic, in big, bold capital letters BIG COASTAL STORMS – a “big change” compared to last year where we only had one coastal storm. Recall that pre-Thanksgiving dump that paralyzed roadways.

I put on my investigator’s hat. Turns out Direct Weather’s host, who doesn’t reveal his name, is nineteen years old. A self-professed weather nerd, although “not a meteorologist yet.” His presentation and number of followers are impressive — the same is true of Mr. Woolly Bear. Winter weather predictions science versus folklore?  I’ve always been a fan of fuzzy.

Garden Dilemmas? (and now on your favorite Podcast App.)

Click through to a previous year’s assortment of fashionable fuzzy-wuzzies and the Woolly Bear Caterpillar Best of Show and another fun column Why Critters Cross the Road.

Helpful Links for weather predictions in your area: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) & The Old Farmer’s Almanac


Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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