About this time of year I start scratching my head thinking about winter and wondering how severe it will be. I've heard all types of folklore predictions of the upcoming season but have no confidence in any of the natural methods to tell me what to look for.
Wooly worms, the larva of the Isabella Tiger moth, are migrating around this time of year looking for a warm place to spend the winter. They have brown-and-black patterns with no reliable color preference and have been studied on a small scale scientifically, without any hard conclusions as to their predictability. Their range extends all the way up to the arctic, so you would expect them to have some dealings with the cold. In fact, they produce their own antifreeze to survive the winter. The width of their yellow-brown band is supposed to be the measure of the mildness of the upcoming weather but, according to the Internet, is an indicator of the past year's coldness.
Corn shuck thickness depends mostly on the variety grown and its genetics. The amount of fruit on trees like pears and persimmons are products of spring temperatures, rain, pollination conditions and the like. This year I've never seen more productive fruiting and have enjoyed the early ripening of persimmons in my yard. Dr. McKinney reported a thousand-plus-pound pumpkin grown for the festival east of here.
Fogs in August seem too nebulous and spotty to prove anything, especially the yearly snows. If the mild temperatures of October carry over into December and January, I predict that you will not need to drag out your long-handled underwear this year.
Thickness of animal coats might be especially hard to measure, but I'm thinking about asking Jean Evins about her alpaca wool production as a means of gauging this parameter. I also wanted to check in with some of the old-timers to get their experience and interpretation of folklore. I asked JW Brown about all of his past knowledge of nature and if he had a prediction for the winter. He said he did, so my ears perked up 'til he said, "It's gonna be kinda chilly."
So in view of all the nebulous nature of natural predictions I would like to add a few more. If you want to know how cold it's going to be, try counting the number of wasps in your attic or spiders in your closet. Then add to it the number of mice in your storage shed. Take this number and use it to determine the number of hours you would like to drive south on the interstate toward Florida or the equator, like the birds that fly and migrate to avoid the cold weather.