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November 17, 2012

Wild or wimpy? Prognosticators take stab at predicting winter

LINESVILLE — If you’re looking forward to a cold, fierce, snow-covered winter — payback for the wimpy, mild Mother-Nature-phoned-this-one-in winter of 2011-12 — this would probably be a good time to move to Boston. Or anywhere along the Interstate 95 corridor, for that matter, including Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City.

Locally, it could go either way. According to meteorologist Brian Mitchell of the National Weather Service in Cleveland, the latest outlooks give our immediate area equal chances of getting either above-normal or below-normal snow and temperature.

“We’re kinda looking toward a normal type of winter,” he said optimistically, noting that even the latest forecast for the next 14 days could best be described as “normal.” All in all, there’s absolutely nothing out there on the forecast horizon leaning one way or another toward colder than normal or above normal.

However, Mitchell was quick to point out that even a fair weather pattern doesn’t necessarily mean sunshine for this part of the country. It tends to stay cloudy, he added, because winds coming across the lakes pick up enough moisture to develop clouds — but that’s not always going to produce sky-clearing precipitation.

In Vermilion, Ohio, just west of Cleveland, home of the annual Woollybear parade — one of the largest parades in the state of Ohio — the fuzzy prognosticators announced last winter that the season would not be as severe as the previous winter.

Having pegged that, the eyes of the nation were on the woollybears’ stripes this year. The caterpillars are black with a copper-orange band around their middles. According to the legend, the width of the stripe forecasts the severity of the winter ahead, with lots of orange predicting a mild winter and a tiny line warning of severe conditions. According to Dick Goddard of Cleveland’s, who organized the first woollybear parade 40 years ago and hasn’t missed one since, this year’s woollybears are predicting a return to more normal temperatures with snowfall at or just above normal.

Local woollybears were not available for comment.

Since August, has been predicting heavy snow along the I-95 corridor and warning that intense coastal Northeasters could be included. However, the Winter Outlook 2012-2013 map from August showed above-normal snowfall along the East Coast the above-normal line formed a diagonal across Pennsylvania, missing everything from Pittsburgh to the far northeast corner of the state.  By November, the above-normal pattern on the map had shifted north, still missing Crawford and Erie counties but including almost all the rest of the state.

At the Crawford Conservation District office, where “furcasts” from Willard the groundhog contributed greatly to local coverage of Groundhog Day until he moved on to, shall we way greener pastures, Director Lynn Sandieson expressed doubts about the woollybear predictions, noting that she’s heard that the size of the stripe simply reflects the age of the caterpillar.

As for the district’s forecast for the coming winter, “I have no way of knowing,” she said. “I’d guess it’s probably going to be a little bit colder than last year.”

Looking forward to February, Sandieson said she also had no way of knowing whether a forecast will be forthcoming. “We’ve seen a groundhog on the side yard, grazing all summer long,” she explained. “He’s a happy groundhog, but we’re not sure if he’s staying in Willard’s hole.”

Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at

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