Steamboat Springs: Black hair count on Wooly Bear caterpillars is a good sign for the snowpack in water year 2012

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From Steamboat Today (Eugene Buchanan):

…The following indicators show we’re due for some shoveling:

Woolly [Bear] caterpillars

Sure, there were more of these little buggers out than usual this year. But more important than their sighting is the number of black hairs at each end — the more the merrier for powder buffs. More orange means a milder winter. Some believe that each of the caterpillar’s 13 segments represents one week of winter. Orange segments predict mild weeks, and black ones predict snowy weeks. Also pay attention to the direction it’s traveling: If it’s heading north, it’ll be mild; south, break out the shovel. “All I know is that usually I don’t see too many of them, and this year I saw them all over the place,” [Ski Corp. spokesman Mike Lane] says.

Skunk cabbage height

According to Native Americans, the height of skunk cabbage leaves predicts the season’s snowfall. And while not Jack-and-the-Beanstalk high, this year’s crop in Routt County seemed to trend skyward. “It got pretty big this fall along Steamboat Boulevard,” Lane says. “I noticed it every day driving home.” Skunk cabbage is far more than a snowfall soothsayer. Native Americans ground its roots to treat wounds and draw out splinters; used its root hairs to soothe toothaches, colds and headaches; and mixed its powder with vegetable pigments to be used as prevention tattoos. It’s also well-adapted to Steamboat’s winters. It can live for 100 years and has winter shoots that morph into reddish-brown, slippery sheaths called spathes, which protect the blooms and whisk unsuspecting insects down to the pollen-filled bottom. It also has its own heating system, trapping heat generated by the flower spike and using it to melt the snow around it (its inside is as much as 36 degrees warmer than the outside air). The heat also attracts insects, which come for the warmth and pollinate in the process. As for its skunk-like smell? It protects the plant from grazing animals and fools such insects as carrion beetles into thinking they’ve found a carcass while they’re in fact distributing pollen.

Birds and the bees

Steamboat sages also look skyward. Rumor has it that an early blackbird migration signifies a strong winter (locals report seeing them heading south in September). The height of beehives also can predict snowfall. The lower the hive the less snow, and the higher the hive the more snow. “This year, they’re about saddle-horn high,” says Marsha Daughenbaugh, of the Community Agriculture Alliance. “That means the snowfall should be about medium, which is still pretty good.”

More wives’ tales

Even beavers have insight into Old Man Winter. Old-timers maintain that the height of a beaver dam indicates how cold the winter will be (they seem about average this year). The same holds true for cobwebs. Bigger than normal or more in your house means a bigger-than-normal winter. And don’t ignore the old persimmon seed. Cut a persimmon fruit in half: A knife-shaped seed spells cold, spoon-shaped means heavy snow and fork-shaped means mild. Other indicators of a big winter include pigs gathering sticks, insects marching in a straight line and more mice than usual inside your home.

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