By Luke Weir. October 25, 2017. BANNER ELK, NC — While some wait until February for a groundhog to gauge when winter will end, residents and visitors of Banner Elk in the third weekend of October would rather turn to a small fuzzy caterpillar for their winter weather expectations.
Thousands gathered around a stage in downtown Banner Elk to watch hairy black and brown caterpillars inch up three-foot lengths of wire. Meanwhile, traffic lined the streets for the 40th annual Woolly Worm Festival Saturday.
Aspen, this year’s winning worm entered by Josh Grosser from Apex, predicts mostly average temperatures this winter, with chances of light snow towards the season’s close, regardless of what local meteorologists might predict.
Black segments signify snow, whereas black-speckled sections hint at icy weather.
Better known to none by their scientific nomenclature, Pyrrharctia Isabella, wooly worms have 13 individual sections on their body. The complexion of those sections is believed by some high country locals to be a good indicator of the upcoming 13 weeks of winter, with each one representing one week of the season ahead. Dark brown segments of a woolly worm are said to indicate very cold temperatures, while light brown means mild weather. Black segments signify snow, whereas black-speckled sections hint at icy weather.
According to Aspen’s official “readings,” the first three weeks of winter will see temperatures below the Avery County average of 27 degrees Fahrenheit, with chances of snow. Weeks four through nine can expect average temperatures. Week 10 will remain at average temperature, but the black specks on Aspen’s coat indicate chances of ice and snow. Week 11 will also see average temperatures, while weeks 12 and 13 are predicted to be average with chances of snow.
The festival’s official publication, the Woolly Worm Gazette, said, “according to completely unscientific, unreliable statistics, the Woolly Worm Festival’s winning worm is correct almost on average 80 to 90 percent of the time in predicting the severity of the coming winter.”
…according to completely unscientific, unreliable statistics, the Wooly Worm Festival’s winning worm is correct almost 80 to 90 percent of the time in predicting the severity of the coming winter.
Races started at 9:30 a.m. and continued throughout the afternoon. A total of 62 races were run Saturday, with 25 worms competing in each heat to be the first atop a three-foot length of wire. In total, over 1500 worms, with names ranging from Billie to Wild Bill, Old Red, Lucky, Millie and Lightning Strike, competed with their handlers, who came from as far as Wichita, Kansas.
The first-place finisher in each of the initial heats moved on to compete in run-off races, eventually leading to a final race in which a winning woolly worm was crowned.
Winners of each heat received a blue ribbon and $25, with winners of the run-off races receiving an additional $50. The winner of the final race, Josh Grosser from Apex, received a $1000 grand prize, and his worm was read to predict a largely average winter for Avery County.
The Woolly Worm Festival, which is run entirely by volunteers, takes place in front of the Banner Elk Cultural Arts Center and is a fundraiser for Kiwanis Club of Banner Elk and the Avery County Chamber of Commerce. Proceeds from the festival, including the $5 entry fee and $5 worm race registration fee, benefit the children of Avery County.
The Woolly Worm Festival continues for a second day of festivities Sunday, during which more woollies will be raced in competition for the glory, and a $500 prize, even though the winter forecast has already been made.
- The Worm Dudes, a team of festival regulars tasked with replacing the recently retired Mr. Woolly Worm himself, Roy Krege, officiated the races and provided friendly banter and interviews with winners between heats.
- Children from Avery County schools find the worms, about 1400 total.