Whither The Winter, What Says The Wooly Worm?

According to legend, a woolly worm can predict the severity of the coming winter. Host Liane Hansen talks to Roy Krege from the Woolly Worm Festival in Banner Elk, N.C., about the fabled caterpillar.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

According to legend, a wooly worm can predict the weather that might be coming in any given winter. The wider the copper band around the worm's middle, the milder the weather. But if it is narrow, prepare for lots of snow days home from school. For over 30 years, Banner Elk, North Carolina, has held a wooly worm festival, where one of the events is a race to see which worm will be this winter's Nostradamus.

Roy Krege has been involved in the festival from the beginning and he's in Banner Elk. Welcome to the program, Roy.

Mr. ROY KREGE (Annual Wooly Worm Festival): Thank you very much, Liane. It's great to be with you.

HANSEN: This weekend, how many races are you running and how many worms are involved?

Mr. KREGE: Well, we race 25 worms at a time up a 42-inch race lane. We'll race about eight semifinals and a final race. And the great thing is that they get to predict the mountain weather.

HANSEN: So, the winner gets to predict the mountain weather?

Mr. KREGE: Yes. We feel that only the winning worm is strong enough to predict what the weather's going to be for the mountain, and that's only after the veterinarian checks it out to be sure it's steroid, stimulant free, there's been no singing or anything like that. So, we have some tight regulations just like the Olympics do.

HANSEN: Right. No juicing, huh?

Mr. KREGE: No, ma'am. Absolutely not.

HANSEN: So, if the worms are racing approximately, as you said, three, four feet to the finish line, how long does the race last?

Mr. KREGE: A minute. If a worm's really racing, he'll be up there within a minute.

HANSEN: Wow.

Mr. KREGE: Some worms will take a week. So, it's all different ways.

HANSEN: A week.

Mr. KREGE: Because the worms really get in a good race. They're hair to hair, neck and neck. It can get pretty tight. We already had one controversial call, like you do in all official events.

HANSEN: Why? The worm's nose...

Mr. KREGE: Well...

HANSEN: ...well, do worms now have noses? I mean, what was it?

Mr. KREGE: They were so close to each other that some of the fans booed when we declared who the winner was.

HANSEN: Roy, do you have a worm in this race?

Mr. KREGE: No, ma'am. I have show worms. I take mine to all the restaurants and public schools for about three weeks and do that. Mine are strictly show worms. I don't race.

HANSEN: Oh, I didn't realize there were show worms and racing worms.

Mr. KREGE: Oh, yes, yes, ma'am. This is a big time sporting event.

HANSEN: Wow. In the history of the festival, there's not been a worm like, well, Secretariat or Man-o-War?

Mr. KREGE: No. We do have one guy that's won three times. He's won the big race twice - once on a Saturday and once on a Sunday - and then he's won some semifinals. And we've checked his worms out and can't find anything illegal. I'm not sure how he's training them.

But people blow on them, clap for them, cheer them on. They're not allowed to touch the worm or the board once the race starts. We're real particular with that.

HANSEN: Roy Krege of the Annual Wooly Worm Festival taking place this weekend in Banner Elk, North Carolina. Roy, thanks. Have fun.

Mr. KREGE: Thank you very much.

HANSEN: This is NPR News.

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