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Winter: Wild or Mild Depends on Where and When

November 4, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ ``Who can stand before the cold?″ asks the Bible, warning of snow like wool and frost scattered like ashes.

While Psalms 147 goes on to promise melting winds, coping with arctic outbreaks and piling snow, winter also means stocking the woodpile and checking the insulation.

Warm outerwear is selling vigorously at L.L. Bean, the Freeport, Maine, catalog company.

``Customers are looking for an assortment for activities ranging from mountaineering to ice skating to just walking to the end of the driveway,″ said spokeswoman Linh Calhoun.

And the Atlanta-based hardware chain Home Depot says sales of snow-related equipment began as early as July and August in its Northeast stores.

``We’re doing a big business in snow shovels, roof rakes and snow blowers,″ spokeswoman Katrina Blauvelt said. ``I don’t think anyone wants to be caught unprepared.″

So much for fear of global warming.

Whether just for planning a ski trip or for setting up fuel oil deliveries, road salt purchases or airline schedules, thousands of people rely on long-range forecasts for the season.

The National Weather Service’s long-range outlook for December through February is:

Colder-than-normal temperatures are expected in the upper Midwest, particularly the Dakotas but also Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and parts of Nebraska and Montana. Below-normal readings also are predicted in New England and perhaps New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and West Virginia.

But the forecasters expect a milder-than-usual winter in New Mexico, the western two-thirds of Texas, western Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

West Texas, southeast New Mexico and a region extending through central Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa are expected to be wet this winter. Dryer than normal is the outlook for Florida, Montana, Idaho and northern Nevada.

That relatively mild outlook conflicts with the forecast from the Farmers’ Almanac published in Maine, which predicts: ``It looks like virtually the entire country will be subjected to stormy and unseasonably cold conditions for the upcoming winter, even in the so-called Sun Belt areas.″

``Another stormy, cold season,″ is the forecast from Harris’ Farmer’s Almanac, published in New York. The Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack of Hagerstown, Md., opines that this winter ``will be shorter, colder but less snowy than last winter.″

While government forecasters rely on science, almanacs often add ages-old folklore.

One traditional rhyme advises: ``Onion skins, very thin, Mild winter coming in. Onion skins very tough, Winter’s coming cold and rough.″

Many people predict a hard winter by the volume of acorns produced. More nuts, more snow.

And woolly-bear caterpillars are popular portents of coming months. The creature’s middle brown stripe is the tipoff: The wider the brown band, the milder the winter, says Eric Sloane’s ``Folklore of American Weather.″

German lore says it’s better in February to see a wolf at the door than a farm worker in shirtsleeves. The English say: ``Year of snow, year of plenty.″

Those sayings reflect knowledge that snow stores water to nourish spring crops and also forms a blanket to shield developing crops from the worst of winter’s cold. A warm spell in winter, on the other hand, can cause plants to bud early and be killed by the next icy blast.

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