Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Predictors and Prognosticators

Well, it is now January 13.  We are almost half-way through the month, and skies have for the most part been cloudy and the weather disagreeable to say the least.  For those folks who hail from the Frozen North…or even the Upper Midwest…temperatures in the 30s and 40s may seem balmy, but not to us Texans.  Native or otherwise, we like our winter days to be sunny and in the 60s!  Not too much to ask, one would think, but the norm has been otherwise.

The Weather Guessers had predicted either a “warm and wet” or a “cold and wet” winter.  So far it’s been on the cold side, but without appreciable rain.  I don’t know who will be right about this winter’s weather, if anyone.

Maybe we should be looking somewhere else for weather predictions.  While we were in South Dakota this summer and fall, we encountered another prognosticator.  In the fall, we began seeing these strange caterpillars.

I started asking around and found that all the locals are familiar with them.  They are called “woolly bear caterpillars,” or sometimes “woolly worms,” and are the larvae of the Isabella Tiger Moth (Pyrrharctia isabella).  The insect hatches in the fall and overwinters in the caterpillar form, when it literally freezes solid for several months.  In the spring, it thaws out to pupate and turn into an adult moth that is dull yellow to orange with a fuzzy thorax and tiny black spots on its wings.  

According to folklore, the relative amounts of black and coppery-brown bristles on the woolly bear indicate the severity of the coming winter.  Since we found a number of these critters, with differing patterns of black and brown bristles, we couldn’t tell what they were predicting.  

This fellow seems to think it will be a severe winter, 

While his friends are predicting milder temperatures.

I just hope that they settle on “warm and wet” and that these cold, gray days end soon!

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