If this year's Hagers-Town Town and Country Almanack is on target, this winter will be relatively mild and very similar to last year, but residents around Hagerstown, Md., might get socked with 55 inches of snow -- about 20 inches more than average.
Last year, 37 1/2 inches of snow fell on Hagerstown, 70 miles northwest of Washington. The almanac had predicted an average of 44 inches.
"The average is almost exactly what we predicted -- for the second year in a row," said William E. O'Toole, the almanac's weather conjecturer, who is a mathematics professor at Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Md. "We said 44 inches of snow for the Hagerstown area. The official total was 37 1/2, but here in Emmitsburg we posted an official 50.1 inches."
Between Nov. 19 and the end of March -- 134 days -- the almanac predicts that residents in the Washington County area will endure 60 days with significant precipitation and 75 days of highs in the 30s or below. O'Toole's forecast also calls for 16 cyclonic storms, low-pressure systems that could bring wind, rain, sleet and snow.
"It's all based on very old theories that have to do with the position of the moon and storms on the sun," O'Toole said about his forecasting.
The fifth annual woolly bear contest in October also is promoted in this year's almanac, the 191st edition, which holds the contest to determine whether the creatures are accurate weather prognosticators.
The caterpillars have three fuzzy bands -- black in front and back and reddish brown in the middle. According to folklore, the narrower the middle band, the colder the winter will be. Some people also believe that if the front band is wider, the early part of winter will be severe. And if the back one is larger, the end of winter will be the worst.
"We've gotten about 30 woolly bears to date. The front band is about average and the back half is a little longer, which indicates to us that the back half of winter might be a little more severe," said Gerald W. Spessard, business manager for the almanac.