Ray or the worm – the worm or Ray?

Once again,science and scientists go head to head with the forces of nature to see who can best predict the coming winter in the North Carolina mountains.


In this corner we have weather prognosticator extraordinaire Dr. Ray Russell. While Dr. Ray isn’t a meteorologist, he is a scientist — at least an associate professor in Appalachian State University’s computer science department.

And there is no doubting Dr. Ray’s nerve and mettle as this is the seventh year he has faced off with Western North Carolina’s most renowned weather forecaster: the woolly worm.

I heard those gasps out there. It’s scary to think of a mere human up against the Mothra of mountain weather predictors. Will Dr. Ray be chewed up and turned to caterpillar fras?

Well, actually according to Dr. Ray’s Web site, raysweather.com, our intrepid expert has done pretty well against the woolly one since the contest began back in 2000. “RaysWeather.Com, Inc., has been going head to head with the woolly worm since 2000. We have had one disaster year (2001-2002, the year it couldn’t snow), two only fair years (the last two years), two good forecast years (2000-2001 and 2002-2003) and one excellent year (2003-2004). That’s not stellar, but it’s better than most.”

Dr. Ray bases his forecast on scientific principles such as a predicted weak El Nino this year. According to his website, “... weak El Nino winters produce 29 percent more snow than the average winter in the High Countr y...” And to be sure we know that his prediction is scientific he even throws in a negative “NAO.”

It turns out a NAO is a North Atlantic Oscillation. Dr. Ray seems to be betting on a negative NAO this winter — “A persistent negative NAO is possible. When the storms reach the Southeast, do they strengthen and form Nor’easters in response to a big trough carved into the Eastern U.S. (often snow for us)? Do they cut across the Ohio Valley putting us on the warm side of the storm (rain)? Or do they move along the Gulf Coast States and then peacefully out to sea?

Often the answer to this question is found in the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). The NAO tends to be much more variable than the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) — a risky thing to predict. However, a negative NAO especially late in the winter tends to produce blocking over the North Atlantic resulting in big troughs in the Southeastern U.S. — thus the Nor’easter variety storm.”

For its part the woolly worm relies completely on, well, worm stuff to predict the weather. This year’s woolly worm king, recently crowned at the annual Woolly Worm Festival in Banner Elk, is the gratefully not dead Jerry Garcia, handled by Katie Berry of Boone.

Jerry’s official forecast is...

Week 1 – cold and snowy

Week 2 – cold and light snow

Week 3 – cold and snowy

Week 4 – cold and snowy

Weeks 5-11 – seasonably cool, no snow

Weeks 12-13 – cold and light snow

Dr. Ray’s forecast is...

Week 1 – cold and snowy

Week 2 – normal temps, light snow

Week 3 – mild, no snow

Week 4 – cold and snowy

Week 5 – normal temps, light snow

Week 6 – cold and snowy

Week 7 – mild, no snow

Weeks 8-9 – cold and snowy

Week 10 – normal temps, light snow

Weeks 11-12 – cold and snowy

Week 13 – mild, no snow

Well the line is drawn in the snow. It’s worm against man. Predictions begin Dec. 21 and run through the 12 weeks of winter. Who’s better at predicting weather: science or a woolly invertebrate? Only time will tell.

(Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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