By Nathan Ham
In a winner-take-all virtual woolly worm race Saturday afternoon, it appears that we could be in for a cold and snowy start to the 2020-21 winter season.
The two leading sponsors for the annual Woolly Worm Festival, the Avery County Chamber of Commerce and the Kiwanis Club of Banner Elk, each had one worm competing for the top spot, the Chamber Charger and the Kiwanis Kicker. Even with the annual festival being canceled because of COVID-19, the race had to go on.
“We use this festival not only to raise money for the Kiwanis Club and Avery Chamber, but the winning worm is used to predict the winter weather,” said Adam Binder, who handled the play-by-play call for the race. “One of the most important things and one of the biggest reasons why it was so difficult to cancel this festival is that we raise about $125,000 and that goes back into the community. Half of that money is used by the Kiwanis Club and we give Woolly Worm grants and the Avery County Chamber of Commerce uses the funds to promote tourism in our area so losing a festival for a small county and a small town like this is very serious. Obviously, there was no question with what is going on, having that many people together was not the right thing to do.”
A woolly worm has 13 body segments that line up with the 13 weeks of winter. This year, Chamber Charger, raced by Hallie Willis, chairperson of the Avery County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, cruised to a victory and after analyzing the colors of the body segments, the first four were solid black, meaning the High Country will have a colder than average and snowy start to winter for the first month. Kiwanis Kicker, raced by Kiwanis Club of Banner Elk member Doug Owen, had to settle for runner-up.
The next three segments were dark brown, signaling average winter temperatures for three weeks. The next segment color was fleck, or a mixture of brown and black. That indicates a week of below-average temperatures with frost or light snow. The next two segments were dark brown, going back to average winter temperatures, and then another segment of fleck coloring with below-average temperatures with frost or light snow. The final two color segments of Chamber Charger were black, indicating below-average temperatures and snow to close out the final two weeks of winter.
“Mr. Woolly Worm” Roy Krege was there on hand as part of the race day events at Holston Presbytery Camp & Retreat Center near Wildcat Lake in Banner Elk, who graciously allowed the race and the small gathering to take place. Of course, it just would not be a woolly worm race without Avery County native and former basketball standout Tommy Burleson on hand to read the official weather prediction. Melynda Pepple, the director of the Avery County Chamber of Commerce, awarded the first place ribbon to Hallie.
“I would like to thank the Woolly Worm Committee for their creativity putting this event together today and a couple of spouses that worked very hard to give us a hand. Thank you to all of the woolly worm dudes who helped put the social media together today,” said Mary Jo Brubaker, chair of the Woolly Worm Festival Committee, following the race.
Since the festival could not take place this year, donations would be greatly appreciated. Donation information can be found online at the Woolly Worm Festival website.
Chamber Charger woolly worm weather prediction. 13 weeks of winter and 13 segments on the woolly worm. Winter average temperatures/ 27 degrees. First 4 weeks: Black- snow/below-average temperatures, 3 weeks: Dark brown- average/ normal temperatures, 1 week: Fleck- below-average temperatures with frost or light snow, 2 weeks: Dark brown- average/ normal temperatures, 1 week: Fleck- below-average temperatures with frost or light snow, 2 weeks: Black- snow/ below-average temperatures.