Woolly worms predicting winter weather? It’s gospel in one NC mountain town.

Some contestants blow on their woolly worm to encourage it to climb the string faster.
Some contestants blow on their woolly worm to encourage it to climb the string faster. Observer file photo

The idea that a worm can predict the weather is no sillier than believing a groundhog can do it.

So on Oct. 21, the North Carolina mountain town of Banner Elk is having its 40th annual Woolly Worm Festival, which features a competition to see which of the town’s countless worms will be singled out to predict the severity of the state’s upcoming winter. Banner Elk is about 2  1/2 hours northwest of Charlotte.

The Woolly Worm Festival has been dubbed one of America’s “small, hidden and bizarre festivals” by the American Festival Project, a survey financed by National Geographic.

More than 16,000 people attended last year, and 1,000 worms competed.

North Carolinians take this seriously.

At least three other woolly worm festivals are held in the country each year, in Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

The Banner Elk competition is a series of hard-fought worm races, with the worms slithering up a three-foot-long string.

“There is no other experience in life that can produce the absurd euphoria that comes from cheering for a caterpillar to climb a string,” according to a statement from the festival. “It is so indisputably ridiculous that it is completely liberating!”

The American Festival Project said the ridiculousness includes the selling of worms and a tradition of people trying to warm up the worms before each race. “Some contestants try blowing on the worm, or clapping behind it to speed them up,” reported the project.

The races begin around 9:30 a.m. Saturday. Each heat consists of 25 worms, all of which have names like Chuck Norris, Captain Worm and Rumplewormskin. The races last until around 4 p.m., when one exhausted worm is declared triumphant.

So how does a worm predict the weather?

In the case of groundhog weather prediction, it’s all about whether or not the animal sees its shadow on Feb. 2.

With the woolly bear caterpillar, it’s about body segments. The worm has 13 segments, each believed to correspond to a week in winter. If a segment is light brown, that means the week will be mild. If a segment is black, that means a harsh, cold week.

The winning worm owner gets $1,000, and the worm “wins a trophy and bragging rights,” festival organizers said.

For details, visit www.woollyworm.com/ or call the Avery County Chamber at 828-898-5605.