December 10, 2010 by Joseph C. Neal
Predicting a week’s worth of weather is a tricky business, never mind an entire winter’s worth. But experts as well as old weather lore that have been around for centuries will look to everything from water temperatures and jet streams to wooly worms and persimmon seeds to make a winter weather prediction. The “Farmer’s Almanac”, which many look to as the standing expert on long-term weather predictions, started using a secret formula in 1792 to predict the weather, but have since added meteorology, climatology and solar science to their formula.
What a difference a day can make. We went from a Monday with temperatures in the 60’s to a Tuesday that didn’t’ climb out of the 30’s, which made us all start wondering…what kind of winter will we see?
Well….here’s what the experts are saying.
“The wooly worms are really fuzzy and they’re black this year,” says Doug Johnson, who serves as fire chief in Berryville, but also happens to deliver our paper from the printer every Wednesday.
“When they’re all black, it looks like a hard winter all the way through.”
Johnson says when the worm’s head is brown and the body is black, the winter will start milder and then turn harsher and if the head is black and the body is brown, then winter weather will start off with a bang and then get milder.
Washington County Observer Staff Photographer Brooke McNeely Galligan consulted with her husband, who is an entomologist and while he said he isn’t sure about wooly worms predicting the weather, he did bring us a wooly worm. The worm did have a black head, which according to Johnson would predict that our winter will jump-start with harsher weather, but this worm also sported a wide brown band. According to folklore or weather lore as you might call it, the thicker the band, the milder the winter.
With the Wooly Worms predictions in hand, the Observer staff turned to slicing persimmon seeds in half to see what they might reveal. That task may sounds simple, but there is a lot of pumpkin-like slime and stringiness to work through before the small and very hard seed can be cut in half. But in three separate tests, the results were unanimous; the seeds predicted a snowy winter with some cold weather thrown in. And how, might you ask, can a persimmon seed make such a prediction?
Weather lore says that if the seed is shaped like a spoon, there will be snow to shovel. In the Observer tests, three spoons were revealed in each sample. The tests also each produced a knife, which is supposed to predict a “cutting” cold. A fork, which was not part of these results, predicts a milder winter with only a dusting of snow.
KNWA Chief Meteorologist Dan Skoff confirmed his persimmon tests also gave mixed signals. He said predicting the weather this far out is like throwing a dart at a board.
“Really, honestly, it’s no more than a guess. But I do have some scientific reasoning behind my guess.”
Skoff says we’re experiencing a moderate to strong La Nina year, which means that waters near the equator in the Pacific Ocean are colder than normal, pushing the jet stream farther north, which will make our winter warmer and drier than normal.
But Skoff said snow lovers shouldn’t be discouraged. He said often times people hear “La Nina” and think they won’t get any snow.
“It just means the cold fronts come through less frequently, not that there won’t be snow.”
Skoff says he predicts an early start to winter, two or three snow storms, and a couple of ice events.
“I do believe we’ll see some snow, but do believe we’ll see more ice than last winter,” said Skoff, but added that he doesn’t think we’ll see another 100-year ice storm like the one in 2009.
For those of you who are not big fans of winter weather, Skoff also predicts the arrival of an early spring, but says the warmer weather may also bring severe weather.
Joe Neal, who writes the “Western Arkansas Bird Notes” column in this paper, says he doesn’t expect harsh weather any time soon.
“Robins are here in big numbers. As long as they stay in their roosts, the weather will stay pretty mild.”
Neal said if the robins disappear, they predict a change in the weather.
“Then watch out,” he says with a laugh.
And if you still have doubts about what kind of winter we’ll have, the “Farmer’s Almanac” which is widely revered as an authority on predicting the weather, says just about the same thing. They predict we’ll see average or below average precipitation and are indeed predicting three snows.
Like Skoff, they say our temperatures will be milder with the exception of January, which reportedly will be two degrees cooler than average. And if you need more proof they might be on the right track, they predicted this week would start with thunderstorms and turn sunny and cold, which turned out to be spot-on.
With all this expert advice, readers can certainly feel assured the winter will be milder than last. It looks like we’ll see an early start to winter, a few snows, maybe some ice and somewhat milder temperatures. But then again, who knows?