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Woolly bears warn of long winter

November 01, 2000

Woolly bears warn of long winter



By SCOTT BUTKI / Staff Writer


Winter will be harsh this year, according to the results of an annual caterpillar contest.

Some believe that the severity of a coming winter can be predicted by looking at the bands on the front and rear of woolly bears. The Hagers-town Town and Country Almanack sponsors an annual contest to gather the insects for analysis.

The winners of the 18th annual Woolly Bear Contest were announced Wednesday. As part of the event, the stripes on 632 woolly bears were examined and predictions made about the coming season's severity.

It will be a harder than usual winter, according to a contest news release. This year, the front band, representing the first half of winter, and the back band, representing the second half of winter, were slightly longer than normal.

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The woolly bears support the predictions of the Hagerstown Town & Country Almanack, which predicts a 129-day winter season with 103 cold days. The Almanac predicts 50 inches of snow, more than normal, will fall. It calls for 23 storms and for snow to fall on 36 days.

Bill O'Toole, the Almanac's weather prognosticator and a computer instructor, said the first snowstorm of winter will occur Dec. 13 and light snow flurries are expected Christmas Eve. New Year's Day is expected to be cold but without snow, he said.

Last year the woolly bears correctly predicted a mild winter, while the Almanac predicted a cold and snowy winter, according to the press release.

The woolly bears provide information that is right more often than wrong, said Frank Leiter, who has been the contest's chief judge for 18 years, Wednesday night.

All woolly bears are released back into nature, Leiter said. The contest provides education for the contestants who learn, for example, that woolly bears eventually form a cocoon and become moths or butterflies, he said.

The contest winners received $100 cash prizes while runner-ups received six free copies of the Almanack. Both winners entered the contest for the first time this year.

The winner of the "Biggest and Woolliest" category was Katie Norris, 13, an eighth-grader at Clear Spring Middle School.

The runner-up was Robert Smith, 11, of Falling Waters, W. Va.

Norris' woolly bear caterpillar was about 3 inches long, the largest Leiter has seen in more than 18 years, he said. Usually they are about 1 1/2 inches, he said.

Norris found her winning woolly bear while riding her bike on the Western Maryland Rail Trail near Big Pool. She spotted it under a bridge.

Before handing the wolly bear over to the judges, she fed it wild berries and grass, she said. Norris said she will buy a new Game Boy with her money and save the rest, she said.

The winner in the "Cutest and Cuddliest" category was Michael Warrenfeltz, 9, a fifth-grader at Lincolnshire Elementary School. He said he was in a car when he saw the woolly bear on a road and ran over and grabbed it.

Warrenfeltz had not decided how he would spend his prize money. He too had entered the contest for the first time.

The runner-up was Ian Miller, 6, of Keedysville, a first-grader at Boonsboro Elementary School.

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