Move Over Groundhogs: Caterpillars Predict the Weather In This Town

Every year, thousands of people flock to the tiny town of Banner Elk, North Carolina, to watch caterpillars race. The creepy-crawly contest is at the center of the annual Woolly Worm Festival, a fiercely popular local event that’s been going on for nearly half a century. The tradition runs deep, and the stakes are high. The winning human gets a $1,000 prize, and the winning caterpillar gets the honor of predicting the weather for the winter to come. So, is there any truth to the caterpillars’ predictions? According to Tommy Burleson, the festival’s official “worm reader” for the past 30 years, the answer is an emphatic yes. In the time he’s been worm-reading, his predictions have been correct 90% of the time. To read a worm, you start near the head and move backward from there. The foremost segment corresponds with the first week of winter, while the tail-end segment corresponds with the last. The amount of black on the worm in autumn varies proportionately with the severity of the coming winter in the locality where the caterpillar is found. The longer the worm's black bands, the longer, colder, snowier, and more severe the winter will be. Similarly, the wider the middle brown band, the milder the upcoming winter. The position of the longest dark bands supposedly indicates which part of winter will be coldest or hardest. If the head end of the caterpillar is dark, the beginning of winter will be severe. If the tail end is dark, the end of winter will be cold.