Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Charles Owens

November 6, 2013

Talking climate change, woolly worms, deer and those always stubborn raccoons

— — As someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy snow and the cold winter months, I keep telling myself that maybe this whole global warming thing is real. Maybe the scientists, and the politicians, actually know what they are talking about.

I’ll point to a recent Associated Press story that appeared in this newspaper a few weeks ago as evidence to support this theory. The story quoted scientists who said we can expect to see fewer winter storms and warmer temperatures in the years ahead due to global warming. But it came with a caveat. The climate change scientists quoted in the story suggested that even though we should see fewer snow storms, the winter storms that do develop will be more severe.

While the national media, scientists, politicians and our president in particular are apparently of the opinion that every single person in our great country believes that climate change is not only real, but also now an accepted fact, the truth of the matter is that there are still a lot of skeptics, including folks right here in the coalfields of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia.

Superstorm Sandy is the only real storm we’ve seen to date that would reinforce the climate change argument. And scientists say we will be seeing more of these so-called super storms in the future due to climate change. Time will tell I guess. Scientists are normally — but not always — correct.

But as it stands now I haven’t seen or read anything to suggest that the upcoming winter will be warm with little to no snow. In fact, what little I’ve seen — including the timeworn but trusted Farmer’s Almanac — would seem to indicate that we could be in for a wet and snowy winter.

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Popular folklore points to the woolly worm as another good indicator of the approaching winter ahead.

We are told that a woolly worm — or a “hairy caterpillar” or “woolly bear” — that is more black than brown, is usually an indicator of a rough winter to come. However, a woolly worm that is more brown than black means the region will instead see a milder winter.

As a child growing up in McDowell County, I would keep a watchful eye out on woolly worms in early to late fall in hopes of learning whether the approaching winter would be a bad or mild one. Fortunately, we didn’t have many bad winters while growing up in McDowell County. In fact, I rarely got out of school due to snow.

I do remember seeing a near solid black woolly worm in the months before the Great Blizzard of 1993. The little critter was definitely accurate that year. Not only was it a bad winter — we had snow on Halloween back in 1992 — but we also got buried under more than two feet of heavy snow during a 24-hour period in March of 1993.

I also remember seeing a woolly worm that had a lot of dark bands in the weeks leading up to the Dec. 18, 2009, monster snowstorm. That was another crippling monster that dumped heavy, wet snow across the region.

Most of the woolly worms I’ve seen around the house in recent days have had black rings at the top and bottom, and their middles have been more brown or lighter. I guess based upon woolly worm folklore that would suggest a strong start and end to winter while the weeks in between are normal or average.

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Living in the country is a great thing. It’s peaceful, there is plenty of wildlife to watch and enjoy, and one can experience a calming sense of peace and serenity while just sitting outside with nature. Yes, you have to watch for deer on the morning and evening commute. They won’t stop for you. You have to stop for them. And raccoons, of course, can become a problem as well. We’ve even had a few black bear sightings in the community.

But when it snows, our road is always the last to be plowed. Which is kind of perplexing when you consider that a school bus must still travel up and down this particular roadway each day.

I’m hoping for a warm, or at least average November. And with hope we won’t see any major winter storms until at least after or around Christmas. If we could hold winter to just January and February, most of us would be able to endure. And the global warming/climate change science would suggest that is, in fact, what is happening, or will soon be happening — if you choose to believe the whole climate change  argument of course.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com. Follow him @BDTOwens.

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