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Woolly bears forecast winter chill

November 04, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

A cold November will welcome a winter that will wind down with mild temperatures, according to the caterpillars that invaded Frank Leiter's living room in October.

Leiter, of Hagerstown, has been judging the Hagers-Town Town and Country Almanack's annual woolly bear contest for the past 20 years. Bill O'Toole, the Almanack's weather prognosticator, predicts the weather based on the furry insects' markings.

The purpose of the contest is to gather enough woolly bears to analyze their markings and determine the area's winter weather, Almanack Business Manager Gerald Spessard said.

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Folklore says woolly bears can be used to predict the length and severity of winter based on the width of their black and brown bands.

This year's contest drew 72 entries - the same number as last year but down from the 632 judged in 2000. Spessard attributed the critters' scarcity to dry weather.

O'Toole's analysis of the woolly bears' three bands resulted in his prediction of colder-than-normal temperatures from mid-November through mid-February, tapering to milder temperatures near the end of the winter season.

The woolly bears shared longer-than-normal front bands - which represent the first half of winter - and short back bands, which represent the second half of winter, Spessard said.

Leiter on Thursday selected four winners from the entries.

It is easier to decide the winners of the "Biggest and Woolliest" category than the top finishers in the "Cutest and Cuddliest" category, he said.

"I compare it to the finalists in a beauty contest," Leiter said.

Toni Torrez, 2, won the $100 first prize for a cute and cuddly caterpillar named "Alma." Toni found the insect on her front porch with the help of her grandmother, Spessard said.

Meghan Feiser of Fairplay found the runner-up in the cute category, for which she received six copies of the Almanack, Spessard said.

Wesley Truax plucked "Hairy Hagar" from his Clear Spring backyard. The bushy caterpillar won Wesley, 13, the $100 first prize for his category.

Kiersten Waters, 9, of Sharpsburg, won six copies of the Almanack for her second-place insect in the contest's "Biggest and Woolliest" category.

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