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Woolly Worm Says Break Out the Coats, Snow Shovels

October 24, 1991

PIKEVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ People in Appalachia should start breaking out the thick sweaters and invest in a few good snow shovels. The eastern Kentucky ″woolly worm″ says a cold, snowy winter is ahead.

Don’t believe it? Listen to Rosemary Porter Kilduff, who published the 10th annual woolly-worm forecast in Thursday’s edition of The Beattyville Enterprise.

″Our Lee County woolly worms have proved to be remarkably accurate, so we have no reason to doubt their veracity for the 1991-92 winter,″ Kilduff says.

According to Appalachian folklore, the severity and duration of the winter months can be foretold by observing the color and behavior of the ″worm″ - actually the Isabella moth caterpillar.

Kilduff also figures in the position of hornets’ nests on trees, the shapes of persimmon pits, the number of August fogs and other factors for an extra degree of accuracy.

During the newspaper’s four-week survey, observers reported sighting 119 of the fuzzy creepers. Sixty-three were black, 11 were brown, 30 had black ends and brown middles, and there were three each of white and blond.

″The black ones are far in the lead, which portends a very cold winter,″ Kilduff wrote. ″We can expect 31 snows, as Deputy Sheriff Junior Kilburn counted 31 August fogs. It was foggy EVERY morning.″

The shape of the persimmon seeds determines the snowfall: A spoon shape means snow to shovel, a fork means ″loose, easy snow″ that doesn’t stick and a knife-shaped pit indicates a ″knife-sharp cutting winter.″

″The spoons in 10 out of 11 persimmon seeds substantiate the snow expected,″ said Kilduff, a contributor to the 109-year-old weekly newspaper. ″We’ll be shoveling.″

Three hornets’ nests were reported, all high on the trees, Kilduff said. That means the snow ″will lay on.″

In case the worms, hornets and seeds weren’t enough proof, Kilduff said the heavily laden black walnut tree and ″heavy corn shucks″ reported by Nevyle Shackelford ″bear out the cold forecast of the woolly worms.″

But if none of that should come to pass, Kilduff has a last-minute sign to fall back on: The onion Shackelford ate for supper recently had thin skin, ″which means an easy winter, so perhaps there is hope.″

Kilduff sent the survey results to the National Weather Service office in nearby Jackson. A spokesman there was noncommittal.

″I don’t know. I’ve found they make good fishing bait, for one thing,″ said the official, who withheld his name for fear of offending locals.

Kilduff isn’t bothered by non-believers. She says she’s only been wrong once in the last 10 years.