WEATHER

Doug Hill's 2013-14 Winter Weather Outlook

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Every now and then, Washington gets nailed by major winter storms, like four years ago during the winter of Snowmageddon. A record 56 inches of snow fell in Washington (Reagan National Airport) and more than 70 inches in the suburbs.

But most recent D.C. winters have been disappointing for snow lovers. Looking back, 25 of the past 30 winters produced below average snowfall. And my snowfall predictions? Totally wrong the last two winters.

A lot of people think birds, animals and insects give us the best clues about winter weather. So this year I looked to nature for some guidance.

Dan Babbitt says the Wooly Bear Caterpillar is the most popular winter weather folklore. He's the manager of the Insect Zoo at the National Museum of Natural History.

“(The folklore states) If it's a wide orange in the middle it's going to be a mild winter, if it's mostly black or long black on both ends, it's going to be a pretty harsh winter.”

Others think squirrels have the answer. On our Facebook page, many people wrote in to let us know their thoughts on the coming winter based on nature. 

Others say birds eating berries earlier than normal, or spiders building extra large webs are nature's way of indicating a snowy winter is ahead. Studies have disproved most of the folklore, yet many continue to trust in nature.

I remember such folklore from when I was much younger. Back then, my mother used to do all those things. Watching nature, birds, squirrels and acorns she used to correctly predict some of the biggest Maryland snowstorms my entire childhood.

We asked Dan Babbitt if his Wooly Bear really suggests it's going to be a snowy winter?

“Those stripes aren't indicating weather patterns for the winter at all, they're just showing how old caterpillar is or how wet where they were eating.”

So what about this winter, creatures aside? There are no strong atmospheric trends or signals right now, nothing to give any confidence one way or the other so you go with your gut.

And my gut says we will finally have, at least, an average snowfall this winter of 10 to 18 inches and temperatures at or only fractionally above average. Mountainous areas will be a relative winter wonderland if my gut is on track. But for most of us it will be enough to keep it interesting and enough climate uncertainty that we cannot rule-out “a big one.”

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