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Winter of 2020-21 will be similar to last two years, woolly worms say

Points East

Apparently the National Association of Woolly Worm Winter Weather Watchers (NAWWWWW) is taking the shelter-in-place coronavirus precautions far more seriously than the human population. Of course members of NAWWWWW pay absolutely no attention to politics and that may be the reason so few of them have been seen out and about during these normally busy weather forecasting weeks.

I’ve been observing and writing about the woollies since the mid 1970s, at least 45 years, and I usually check out several hundred of them from mid September through the end of October. This year I have spotted fewer than 100 and well over half of them were within 12 miles of Charlie Brown Road here in Paint Lick.

Loretta and I spent a “four-day weekend” the third weekend of October visiting my brother, Andy, where we also made numerous stops that included Madison, Estill, Powell, Lee, Wolfe, Magoffin, Johnson, Lawrence, Floyd, Pike and Letcher counties. We encountered more than a dozen elk and at least that many deer, wild turkeys and various migrating waterfowl. We hit several large parking lots at both Paintsville and Yatesville Lakes, drove the two-mile loop around Fishpond Lake and spent a few hours on large mountaintop parks.

We made stops, coming and going, at the Slade Mountain Parkway rest area, normally a favorite October woolly worm gathering place, but we never saw a single woolly worm during the entire trip. We had two killing frosts two mornings that turned into bright, sunny days. You could literally watch the leaves change color. Normally the woollies would have been crossing the roads in droves. I never even saw a dead one.

In case you don’t already know, woolly worms are not really worms. They are caterpillars that eventually turn into Isabella tiger moths. A quick Google search will turn up numerous photos of both and you will find that both the moths and the caterpillars they morph into have a wide range of colors. The colors of the caterpillars don’t seem to have any effect on the colors of the moths from which they emerge. I’ve watched solid black caterpillars turn into bright yellow moths and very light brown ones emerge as nearly black moths.

It takes a bit of doing but you can do this experiment yourself if you have some patience and a large cardboard box that you can store in your basement over the winter. I don’t have space here to explain the whole process. Google it.

In the meantime, I’m guessing that about half the woollies I’ve seen so far have been blond. It’s not unusual to see one or two blondies every year, but dozens of them have, heretofore, never happened in all the decades I’ve been keeping up with them.

One lady told me there were so many pale yellow woollies this year because they have discovered that blondes have more fun. Another Facebooker claims that they are not blond at all but they are following the Governor’s orders to mask up and there’s been a run on yellow masks for woolly worms.

In any event, I’ve seen enough Facebook posts from eastern Kentuckians that, coupled with my own observations, I am making a NAWWWWW forecast with the required 2020 asterisk.

Look for the winter of 2020-2021 to be mostly the same as the last two years for central and eastern Kentucky. The coldest weather will be from Thanksgiving through Christmas and then from March through mid May. Count on several hard frosts in May. The prospects for a white Christmas with very wet snow are the best they have been in 10 years. Look for lots of wet weather with a few snows that will melt rapidly.*

*Remember to take this forecast with several grains of salt. It’s still 2020 and if anything can go wrong, it will.

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