EVEN before winter has officially arrived, there is a blizzard of news.
First: As the trees are shedding their leaves, there are ominous signs of an early winter. Last week, 100 skiers hit the slopes at Killington, Vt., where snow-making machines have produced about a foot of snow. The man-made snow was sprayed on top of an inch of the real stuff, which fell on Sept. 30. ``An early winter in October is a good indicator of a snowy winter,'' says Scott Campbell, a Killington spokesman.
Second: Finding a snow blower this year is like searching for an air-conditioner in a heat wave. ``We've never seen anything like this - people have almost a fear of not having something to move the snow this winter,'' says Mark Rostvold, vice president of Deere & Co., which has made a record number of snow blowers.
Third: Last week it was 25 degrees with hurricane-force gusts at the top of New Hampshire's Mt. Washington. ``It's a sign winter is trying to work its way down,'' says meteorologist Tony Vazzano of North Winds Weather in Center Sandwich, N.H. A snowy winter would not surprise Mr. Vazzano, who thinks snowy winters come in clumps. ``Look at the past: Years with little snow come in strings, while years with lots of snow tend to clump,'' he reasons.
Fourth: The corn husks in Iowa are so loaded with moisture they are practically hanging off the ears. ``I've lived by this all my life - when the husks come loose it means we are going to have an `open' winter,'' says Harold Tjelmeland, who farms 160 acres in Story City, Iowa. What's an open winter? Well, besides loose husks, it means moderate temperatures but plenty of snow. ``It won't be bad,'' Mr. Tjelmeland says.
Fifth: The folkloric Old Farmer's Almanac rounds out the predictions with its own: ``Near record amounts of snow are anticipated for the upper Great Plains, Great Lakes, New York, New England, and much of the Appalachians, as well as the higher elevations of the western part of the country, including southern California.''
This is all a snow squall to national weather forecasters, such as meteorologist Robert Livezey of the Climate Analysis Center in Rockville, Md. ``I know of no viable forecast able to demonstrate with any accuracy how much snowfall we're going to get,'' he proclaims, noting that the conditions that create snow are quite complex.
Long-term forecasts are more governed by the El Nino effect, Dr. Livezey says. El Nino is a warm current of water along the west coast of South America. The current is impacted by the much cooler water temperature in the Pacific Ocean.
When there is an El Nino event going on, the southeast part of the US has a wetter than normal winter and the Pacific Northwest is warmer than normal. During some El Ninos the north-central US has been mild with the warmth pushing into the mid-west. Yet Livezey says it is hard to determine what will happen this winter since the ongoing El Nino event is weak.
WHILE the weather bureau may not be certain what's going to happen, the Woolly Worms know - at least according to some folklore. On Oct. 21-23, the town of Banner Elk, N.C. will run its annual Woolly Worm Festival, which includes the worms racing up a string.
Mayor Charles Von Canon reads the 13 stripes (for the 13 weeks of winter in North Carolina) on the winning worm since ``the fastest worm knows what's going on.'' If a segment is light brown, it means a mild week; dark brown means a normal week; coal black means it's time to get out the long johns. On the basis of an early look at the worms, Mayor Von Canon predicts ``it does not look like a lot of bad weather, but quite a bit of snow.''
How accurate are the worms? ``It's not always exact,'' he replies, ``but over the years, I am a little better predictor than the newspaper predictions.''