By Amy Bickel - The Hutchinson News - firstname.lastname@example.org
Forget Pennsylvania's Punxsutawney Phil, Kansas' famed prognosticator is predicting a rough winter. And, of course, the banded woollybear caterpillars many residents are seeing creeping across state highways are just as accurate as the old groundhog. Well, perhaps. However, before the days of modern technology and meteorologists on television, Kansas pioneers on the sparsely populated prairie had little to go by but Mother Nature. So, if a woollybear caterpillar was thicker in coat and had blacker hair in the fall, those early settlers prepared for a severe winter. "People had to predict the weather by the signs they saw," said Mary Clark, director of Hutchinson's Dillon Nature Center. According to the book "Country Scrapbook" by Jerry Mack Johnson, intense cold weather is predicted when larks assemble in flocks. When squirrels are seldom seen, be prepared for a cold winter. In addition, the whiteness of a goose's breastbone is believed to show the amount of snow that will fall during the coming winter. Also, according to the book, if the goose's "breastbone has red spots, a cold, stormy winter will ensue; if few spots are evident, a mild winter is due." "My grandmother used to swear by weather signs," said High Plains gardener Skip Mancini, who lives near Ulysses. "She would plant her garden by weather signs and moon signs. I'm sure it does work for some people." For instance, she quipped, "onion skins very thin, mild winter coming in. Onion skins thick and tough, coming winter cold and rough." Only problem, she added with a laugh, is that her onions froze out earlier this year and her replanted onions are still green. Other supposed signs include: * A deer with more fat means a hard winter ahead. * Thicker than normal cornhusks signal a bad winter. * Heavy fogs during August means a bad winter storm is 90 days away. * When the surprise lilies start to fade, as they did in mid-August, said Kansas State Climatologist Mary Knapp, the first frost is six weeks away. * The first frost also is predicted six weeks after when the frost flower blooms, something farmers noted to Nickerson resident Gordon Roth in late August. Roth said it did coincide with the past weekend's low temperatures, which hit a low 47 degrees Saturday in Hutchinson, and 34 degrees around Ulysses and Hill City. While some low-lying areas may have seen some light freeze, temperatures didn't get low enough over the weekend. Meanwhile, hold off pulling out the chains for your tires, buying a snowmobile or stocking up on canned goods and powdered milk. In reality, there is no way to tell this early what the winter will be like, said climatologist Knapp. The U.S. Climate Prediction Center gives equal chances for a cold, snowy winter as it does a milder one. It's unclear whether an arctic oscillation will influence the jet stream, moving the cold of the polar north to the Midwest, Knapp said. She did note that for those who follow the Farmers' Almanac, the age-old book predicts a severe winter, as well. As for old woolly as a prognosticator, Knapp isn't relying on these future tiger moths. The banded woollybear caterpillars get their wooliness and their color because of genetics and the food source they are eating, said Knapp. Not because a horrible winter ensues, she added. However, she gets calls on occasion about the woolly worms, as well as those noticing squirrels burying lots of nuts - another prediction of a cold winter. "But the thing is, if you see a squirrel burying a lot of nuts, it's probably because there are a lot of nuts for them to bury," Knapp said.