The first winter weather forecast by the National Association of Wooly Worm Winter Weather Watchers (NAWWWWW) was published, in about a dozen central and southeastern Kentucky newspapers, during the fall of 1979.
At least that was the first one that yours truly had a hand in, and chances are good that the paper you are currently reading, was not among the publications that launched this annual prognostication 40 years ago this month. Points East did not come into being until 1980 and I have no idea as to which papers that currently carry the column may or may not have carried that first leg puller.
I simply know that it was dated in October 1979 and that I was ribbed about it, constantly, for months thereafter. Believe it or not, there are still hundreds of readers who take NAWWWWW far more seriously than they should. Unlike UK football, this is always supposed to be fun, folks.
In the meantime, finding a suitable sampling of agreeable wooly worms in central and eastern Kentucky over the last six weeks has been anything but fun.
As recently as 10 autumns ago, about all I had to do was pull off to the side of the road, anywhere not covered with water, and within a minute or less I could spot a wooly worm willing to share its views on the coming winter weather without even getting out of my truck.
However, it seems to me the wooly worm population has diminished to a small fraction of the numbers it posted prior to 2010. The decline has been steady and I have no real idea what’s causing it. I’m reasonably sure that someone is blaming it on global warming and that may in fact be the root cause. The far more sudden, drastic decline in 2019 may be a result of the driest September in Kentucky’s recorded history.
Not so long ago, it was common to walk the half mile length of Charlie Brown Road throughout October and spot more than a dozen recently-smashed wooly worm carcasses that had tried to outrun oncoming traffic. The only smashed things I have found this year are black walnuts that have fallen onto the road. I have not seen a single wooly worm, dead or alive, this year on the right of way of our little road.
During a trip to Letcher County earlier in the month, I counted 10 woolies during three days of active searching. I can remember counting over a dozen in one Whitesburg grocery store parking lot on this same trip fewer than 10 years ago. It’s been that way throughout more than a dozen other counties, where I’ve gone looking for wooly worms since September 2019.
In any event, this year’s NAWWWWW caucus has numbered fewer than 50 delegates and more than a dozen of them are still residing in my garage or basement. We usually poll a few hundred.
Unfortunately, even though the actual numbers are way, way down, nearly all the members of NAWWWWW that I have thus far encountered are bearers of bad news. They say that the coming winter will be the worst one in over 10 years and it will produce more snowfall than we’ve seen during any single winter this century.
If there’s a bright side to the forecast, the woolies say that we should not expect extended periods of bitter cold. Snow is apt to be the culprit. Your TV weather forecaster may predict “flurries” overnight before you wake up to upwards of a foot of white stuff at daylight. There will be numerous times when one community, say Berea, has several inches of snow while nearby towns, say Richmond or Lancaster, won’t be able to roll up a snowball.
However, look for half a dozen big snows area, if not state, wide before the winter is over and look for the winter to be long and dreary. The last big snow this winter probably will not fall before the end of April, according to the wooly worms I have recently encountered.
I am hoping, with every fiber of my being, that readers take great pleasure, next summer, in reminding me about how wrong NAWWWWW turned out to be when it made the forecast for the winter of 2019-20.