Can bugs predict the weather? Some people think so, and they expect a cold winter this year. ?The bees have been out early, and they have been very aggressive for this time of year,? says Stacy Schuster, marketing director for Crystal Mountain Ski Area. ?A lot of mountain folk contend that?s a big sign that something?s coming.?

This bug-based winter wisdom is echoed by the observations of Mike McFarland, a forecaster with the National Weather Service?s Seattle office. McFarland says woolly bear caterpillars in his driveway have thick orange and black coats with wide bands. ?The first two I saw, they were definitely suited up for some snowy, cold weather. I saw those guys and, boy, right away I knew.?

But if bugs believe a cold winter is coming, the National Weather Service doesn?t officially agree. McFarland says the long-range computer forecast for November through January doesn?t indicate anything out of the ordinary for temperatures or precipitation in the Northwest.

The problem for forecasters is a lack of significant El Nino or La Nina events near the equator and in the southern Pacific Ocean, McFarland says. Such weather patterns often have been linked to colder or milder winters in parts of the Northern Hemisphere.

When it comes to long-range winter predictions, ?The only time we ever have anything intelligent to say is when there?s a strong El Nino going, and we don?t have one of those. Unless there?s an El Nino, any bet is foolish.?

However, other forecasters see enough trends and patterns to make a prediction.

Tom Dunklee, chief meteorologist with the private Global Climate Center for the Washington Cascades, predicts above-average precipitation in September, October and November. Rainfall totals should be 125 percent to 150 percent of average, particularly in October and November, Dunklee says. ?I look for a highly fluctuating snow line in November with above-average snow.? November?s heavier than normal rain coupled with fluctuating freezing levels should increase the chance of flooding, he says. Freezing levels should stabilize by December, leading to above-average snowfall in the mountains.

Dunklee bases his forecasts on factors such as sea surface temperatures and air flow in the upper atmosphere.

Although he is no expert on insect behavior, Dunklee says he sees no correlation between busy bees, fuzzy caterpillars and severe winters. ?My philosophy is that the animals react to what the weather is doing or has done,? he says. ?Their bodies don?t prepare for it before it has happened.?

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