- Special Sections
- Public Notices
The winter season officially begins on Dec. 21, and there has already been much discussion among scientists, folklorists and others about the weather that will arrive with it.
Dr. Gordon Weddle, professor of biology at Campbellsville University, said the issue of weather and possible long-term climate change has troubled him for some time.
"All I can say with any degree of certainty is that we are uncertain as to what it's going to do," Weddle said. "I don't know that anyone can predict long-term [weather]."
Stefanie Davis-Tarter, a meteorologist for WTVQ-TV Channel 36 in Lexington, said predicting winter weather is difficult because it is influenced by a complexity of factors, including drought conditions, ocean temperature and air pressure.
"A lot of times for long-term forecasting, as in the season ahead, we use something that's called teleconnection and the idea is that everything is connected," Davis-Tarter, also an instructor of applied science at Lindsey Wilson College, said.
To accurately forecast winter weather conditions, Davis-Tarter said meteorologists keep a close eye on the North Atlantic and Atlantic multidecadal oscillations and use these to track weather patterns.
According to Davis-Tarter, this year's late hurricane season could mean cold winter fronts moving through the United States much earlier than usual.
"Hurricanes can happen until the end of November, and we're seeing [Hurricane] Sandy become a snow maker," Davis-Tarter said. "Usher in all the tropical moisture and you've got an instant snow machine."
She said water holds temperature longer than air and hurricanes can thrive in temperatures as low as 78 degrees. Once a hurricane reaches a certain magnitude, it can propel itself and, therefore, can move through water of much lower temperatures.
"I wouldn't want to go out on a limb and say this means we will have a harsh winter, just maybe an earlier one."
Local farmer Nolan "Hotshot" Gilpin said he has been observing the weather for over half of a century and has come to the conclusion that there is no certainty when it comes to predicting the weather.
"The winters we have now are not the winters we had when I was a boy," Gilpin said. "But this could be the year to change that. You just never know."
According to folk wisdom, woolly worms can predict the severity of the winter season based on the thickness of their middle bands. The narrower the band, the harsher the winter.
Gilpin says he has already seen several woolly worms, ranging in color from blonde to dark brown, with varying types of thickness of bands this year. He said legends like this one cannot be taken too seriously because for every sign one finds in nature that indicates severe winter weather, they will be sure to find another one that says just the opposite.
"I heard somebody say they cut a persimmon seed open and if it's a fork in it, it's going to be a mild winter," Gilpin said. "If it's a spoon, it'll be a bad winter. But they said there was neither one in that seed."
Taylor County Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources Pat Hardesty said that while he has never put much faith into these legends, they are fun to read about and he has heard a lot of them from local farmers.
"Shuck thickness on an ear of corn. The thicker it is, the harsher winter we're going to have," Hardesty said. "Some have talked about ear height, and how high up the stalk an ear of corn is, the more snow we're going to have. But they're all down this year because of the drought."
Hardesty said he has also heard that for every fog in August, there will be a snow day the following winter, but there were a lot of fogs in August last year and there was no accumulation last winter.
"Some of the mature farmers have said a lot of times that one extreme is followed by the other," Hardesty said. "So some are predicting that we may have a harder winter because we had such a hard summer."
But according to Davis-Tarter, this reasoning lacks sufficient evidence. And Weddle agrees.
"I think this was the hottest summer on record for Louisville, but I am concerned about the overall change in climate," Weddle said. "I think the prediction for our region is that we will be warmer and wetter."
He said he wouldn't recommend relying on persimmon seeds or woolly worms for signs of the winter ahead.
While freezing temperatures and snow can lead to all kinds of inconveniences from bulky coats to slick roadways, according to Hardesty, a strong winter offers many benefits to humans, animals and land.
"Most of the time, people are healthier if you have a harsher winter and cattle are generally healthier," Hardesty said. "It's that cool damp, 35 to 40 degrees that's generally when you tend to have more respiratory problems. When it's cold, the air's drier."
Hardesty said everyone would be less likely to get sick if temperatures hovered around freezing. He said temperatures constantly going from cold to warm then back to cold again can lead to more illnesses.
"Now, the medical field may argue that with me, but the livestock sure do a lot better," Hardesty said.
Hardesty said above average rainfall or snowfall in the winter can be beneficial for the following growing season. This is because having adequate precipitation through the winter helps replenish groundwater reserves. One advantage of snow is that it tends to melt gradually, allowing more moisture to soak into the ground, whereas much of a heavy rainfall becomes run-off in streams and rivers.
While what lies ahead this winter still remains largely a mystery, it seems people will never tire of making predictions, whether they are based on science or lore.