Leaf Watch and Woolly Worm Report


We don’t think much about the internal life of the trees around us most of the time, but it’s in the fall that they remind us that they do have a life of their own, which only happens to intersect with our pleasure. Leaves are green in the growing season as trees use them to inhale as much of the sun’s rays as they can process, but as the days shorten and the temperatures cool, trees shut down for winter, like an Icee stand on the beach. They stop feeding the leaves in order to focus energy on the trunk and roots. In survival mode, leaves are disposable. Their job for the year is done. They are the migratory workers of the trees.
While most of us bemoan their disappearance, they do hold a fantastic parade on their way out. States in the northeastern U.S. (and also, oddly, Eastern China) are known for the most striking autumn color due to the combination of rich climate, cold nights, and sunny days, but some of the most gorgeous fall color anywhere can be found right here in West Virginia. Not only is 80 percent of the state forested, but the greater diversity of plant species and milder temperatures promote a longer-lasting foliage season.
The best fall color occurs when the growing season includes plenty of moisture followed by a sunny, dry fall with cool night-time temperatures (but no frost). Too much wind or rain, or an early frost, can cause leaves to drop before they reach their full potential.
We’ve had plenty of good conditions this year for a great show, but I’m just not seeing it. I’m seeing half the trees bare already, just as the color is really coming out on the ones that still have their leaves. It’s a little disappointing.

But in other news, I’m liking what I see in the woolly worm report. This woolly worm crawled right inside my house to give me the forecast.
As the story goes, the longer the middle brown band on a woolly worm, the shorter and milder the coming winter. The shorter the brown band, the longer and snowier. This tale is backed up by studies (really) that put woolly worm accuracy at 57 percent. (Close to your average TV weatherman.) I see a lot of brown here!

How about you? How’s your fall display? What are your woolly worms saying?


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  1. mommaoftwo says:

    My kids and I were telling my sister in law that wooly bears are often predicting the Winter, she wants to see the science behind it 😉 I may or may not have had my kids running around an apple orchard looking for these wonderful caterpillars…..

    Up here in New England we’ve been having a pretty good show, but it got down to 31 the other night already.

  2. mommaoftwo says:

    Oh! I forgot to add, all of the ones we saw were very similar to the one you saw.

    But I think the almanac says we’re in for a long, brutal Winter this year.

  3. SherriJulian says:

    Here in Oklahoma we’ve used the center of the persimmon seed to forecast winter’s harshness. Spoons = shoveling snow; knife ≈ cutting ice; fork = mild winter. I’ll put out a BOLO for a woolly worm.

  4. fowlers says:

    My son came in the other day carring one…..all brown, no joke lol,no black at all. I told my husband….let’s see how acurate the Farmers Almanac is now! well folks we here in Hamilton Ohio…had sleet this morning! Sleet I say…in October ? I remember trick or treating as a kid in the snow….1977…the year of the BLIZZARD….Get ready peeps…a quote from one of my favoite stories….”Winter is Coming”

  5. Kristi says:

    Here in northern Ohio, we have been having exactly the same conversation about the fall colors–perfect conditions for a spectacular display, but they’re…subdued somehow. Like you said, disappointing. We call the prognosticating caterpillars wooly bears–and ours look like yours. I’m totally up for a mild, short winter.

    I loved your book, Suzanne. You tied it all together beautifully at the end. May you sell gazillions of copies!

  6. jinglebell says:

    Yesterday I found out about predicting the weather from persimmon seeds. You will have to check them to see if the wooly worm agrees.
    Jane in KS

  7. wildcat says:

    I saw a WHITE one about a month ago, down here in Georgia. I think it means we’re in for a bad winter. I’m kinda scared. :shocked:

  8. jamitysmom says:

    I’ve never seen a white one! Wonder what that means – it does seem ominous! We have a poor little dead solid black one on the road out front this morning. I’ve seen black ones before. I try to save these cute little caterpillars :yes: when I see them crossing the road – pick them up and put them on the side they were headed for. Most of them this year have had a pretty wide stripe but I had always heard that the wider the stripe the worse the weather, we’ll see!

  9. Peculiar Cat Mama says:

    Here in the Kansas City, Missouri area, we are having a gloriously colorful fall – the reds and oranges are quite brilliant in the October sun. We are having our first frost/freeze weather this week. We had drought that last 2 years, then finally a fairly wet and cool spring into summer till mid-September, then hot and dry, and now in October cooling off nicely.

    The woolly worm we saw last weekend was half brown, half black – even stripes. I haven’t checked the almanac yet. But my intuition says a fair amount of cold and snow this winter – we’ll see how that pans out.

  10. cdgamom says:

    I’m here in Western New York. I have heard the same things about the leaf colors this year, however, this past weekend it was brilliant and beautiful in our hills here. I saw a woolly and it had a large brown stripe, fingers crossed for a mild winter.

  11. emmachisett says:

    Here in North Central Alberta, Canada (Stony Plain, for anyone who wants to look it up) we have no such fuzzy prognosticators. Not sure what old folk tales we rely on or signs from nature to predict the length or strength of the coming winter, ‘cept some swear by Ye Olde Farmer’s Almanac that they pick up at the local Co-op. Our best (and only native) source of fall color is the brilliant yellow of the aspen leaves ( aka poplar) that look glorious for a short time against an unbelievably blue sky (especially when seen through polarizing lenses or filters). Sadly our frosts and winds have denuded the spectacle weeks ago…only gray trunks and branches remain. Leaves still crunch underfoot however and that certain unique fall “punk” is in the air. Every season feeds the senses.

  12. hurshy43 says:

    The Mid West Illinois,Missour,Wisconcin has beautiful color also and I have never notice it be affected by the weather of the previous growing season. The color is best where there is a mixture of ouk, maple and hickory trees.

  13. 5kathleen2 says:

    I saw a wooly worm this past weekend and it was black with a little orange on the end. Our trees are gorgeous so far here in Southern Missouri (Ozarks). I’ve heard we are in for a long hard winter!

    Kathleen (living on Sundown Farm which we bought two years ago…got the bug from you.)

    PS I am into your book, love it!!! I have been with your website from the beginning and it is neat to get behind the scene! :heart:

  14. kellyb says:

    I’m quaking in terror. I just moved 5 wooly bears from the new house yesterday. They were almost all black, just a tiny bit of brown on the ends. I guess I better locate the shovels!

  15. cabynfevr says:

    I’m from CT, just south east of central and all the Wooly Bears I’ve been finding are about equal black to brown. But, you have to add the front and back together to equal the black middle. 50/50 chance of a harsh winter I suppose! When anyone asked my Dad what he thought the winter was going to be like he’d answer “guess you better wait to ask me in the spring.”

  16. Dghawk says:

    Here in east central Virginia, our leaves look about like yours, only a little browner. Very disappointed. Fall is always my favorite time of year. I remember one fall, many, many years ago, my friend and I were going to a dog show at the Air Guard Armory out by Yeager Airport. The leaves were in full bright color and we had an inch or so of snow the night before, but in the morning the sun was bright. It looked like someone had thrown sugar on the trees and the leaves looked like candy. I’ll never forget that.

    As for the wooly worms, haven’t seen one yet.

  17. yvonnem says:

    Hmmm…I don’t know about a mild winter. I’m pretty sure I saw a few snow flakes mixed with the rain as I was driving home from work in Charleston. :hissyfit:

  18. Chickenlady62 says:

    Well then North west NY is in trouble. Both of the 2 woolies I saw this past weekend had narrow brown bands and wide black bands. Better batten down the hatches!

    Tina H

  19. JudyT says:

    Our colors are not as good as last years in Southwest Wisconsin, and most of the leaves are on the ground already.

  20. Shire Girl says:

    What timing! I JUST found one in my garden today (I’m in NW VA) – totally brown, no black at all. Growing up, I always heard the opposite, that the wider the band, the worse the winter. I guess we’ll find out!

  21. Minna says:

    Here in eastern part of Finland “ruska” as we call the colour display of trees and bushes in the autumn is already gone. We even had snow on the ground for a couple of days. :snowman:

  22. ladybird_1959 says:

    Someone recently told me they were talking with someone from the state road crews. They were working on their salt supplies for the winter and the way they determine how much salt will be needed for the winter is by the number of foggy mornings in August. This year there were 17 foggy mornings in August…according to the state road worker we will have 17 HEAVY

  23. ladybird_1959 says:

    grrrr…..snows this winter.

  24. EMarie says:

    Here in Louisiana we have few beautiful fall trees, but I love the feel of the season….and wildcat, I saw a white one just two days ago. I have not a clue as to the meaning of that.

  25. FujiQ says:

    Sorry to be a party pooper but I get a weekly gardening newsletter from Ohio State Extension that recently had a few interesting facts about “woolly bears” and their weather predicting abilities. Sad, because it is fun to think about such things.

    “The course hairs of the banded woolly bear are black at both ends and reddish-brown in the middle. The adult is called the Isabella moth. This is the woolly bear species mentioned in winter-prediction folklore, which claims the longer the black is at the ends of the body, the more severe the coming winter. Research has debunked this legend by showing the amount of black varies with the age of the caterpillar and the moisture levels in the area where it developed.”

  26. SoCalSam says:

    I’d always heard the opposite. No sign that I have found is never wrong is trees bearing nuts and such early and squirrels ‘squirreling; away. I’ve heard from people all across the country and they are seeing exactly this. I think we are in for a wet, brutal winter, at least those in the cold areas.

  27. dawnraeb says:

    I’ve seen wooly worms (a ton of them!) at a distance so far. They appear to be all black or almost all black! And i couldn’t remember if that was good or bad. Next one i see, I’m going to look closely…even if i have to stop traffic to do it!

  28. Mokihana says:

    We call them Wooly Bears here, and so far I have yet to see my first one. I have no idea why they like to crawl from one side of the road to the other. I thought that was for chickens. :chicken: When I see them while I’m driving, I always avoid them if at all possible, wishing they’d just stay on the safe side of the road.

    Will let you know what ours say when I finally spot one. I love them. Love to feel them crawling on my hand, too.

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