WHOA, hold onto your earmuffs. The woolly bear portends a hard winter, in the first part of the season, anyway.
Oh, I know you go by what your local weatherman says, but let me tell you the 1991 Hagers-Town Town and Country Almanack and the woolly bear may come closer to accurate weather predictions than your average weather satellite.
This almanac has an outstanding record for weather prognosticating.
Last year, the almanac's predictions, based on the contestants in the National Woolly Bear Month Contest, came out on target. The markings on the caterpillar indicated a longer and severe beginning of winter, and milder temperatures and less snowfall in February and March -- and that's the way it was.
In case you don't know, woolly bear predictions are based on the three colors of the caterpillar. The head band is the indicator of the first part of the winter. If that is black and elongated, then we'll have severe weather in the first months of winter. If the tail end of the woolly bear is just a tip of black, that means mild weather late in the season. The middle part of the "bear" is usually brownish orange.
Back in the old days, you know, before we had electronic gizmos to gather information about the weather, farmers counted on almanacs.
Some seasonal summary predictions for this winter are:
". . . 100 cold days, 58 wet days, and 22 cyclonic storm systems." Expect the storms Nov. 27-30; Dec. 5-7, 9-11, 17-18, 23-24, 27-28 and 31; Jan. 1, 5-7, 8-9, 14-15, 18-20, 24-27, 31; Feb. 3, 9-12, 17-18, 24-27; March 3-5, 6-8, 11-12, 16-18, 23-25 and 29; April 1. There is a prediction for 26 inches of snow for the season.
I love this book, and it's only $1.75. There are other almanacs published throughout the country, but this one represents the Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania areas. It has its own charm. The 1991 Almanack, in its 194th year, gives you the feeling that life goes on in spite of ice storms, drought, budget deficits and war.
Astronomers love this book because it is loaded with the rising, setting and eclipses of the sun, the moon, planets and stars.
Gerald W. Spessard, Hagerstown business manager for the publication, says the almanac sells very well, and that even race track managers call for weather predictions.
"Once we had an elderly lady call in to find out when she could cut her toenails. According to legend, when the sign of the moon is in the up position, you must cut your toenails. And our printer had the moon signs accidentally reversed. She explained that if you cut your toenails when the moon is in the down position, you will get ingrown toenails . . . and she hadn't cut her toenails in three months."
Now if you're looking for centerfolds, the closest you'll come is a sketch of a family from the 1800s sitting happily in front of an open fire -- I think they're having a conversation.
The almanac also has snippets like: "Behind every successful man stands a surprised mother-in-law."
Even though it is slightly retrospective -- it has quotes from Dr. Benjamin Franklin and an essay from the 1903 Almanack: "Why all girls should serve an apprenticeship in the kitchen" -- it also contains an amazing amount of contemporary information on Earth Day, the greenhouse effect and preserving the environment. It has a great recipe for applesauce brownies -- I've tried it.
But here are some cogent statistics from "Notes on Earth Day":
* "The junk mail received by each household in a year equals 1 1/2 mature trees."
* "Our mismanagement of the planet causes the extinction of one species every eight hours."
* "2,200 tons of garbage a day can be burned in waste-to-energy plants to produce enough electricity for 120,000 homes."
* "Every hour Americans go through 2.5 million plastic beverage bottles."
Well, if you're still wondering whether you'll need your snuggies this winter, go buy a copy of the Hagerstown Almanack, or chase down your own woolly bear.