Each year I'm asked my opinion on the winter weather outlook, because hunters always want to know. I consult the experts, and what I find is a broadcast all over the ballpark.

NOAA predicts this winter is likely to be warmer than the 30-year norm (1971-2000) over much of the nation, yet cooler than last year's very warm winter season.

Overall, for December 2006 through February 2007, seasonal forecasters expect warmer-than-average temperatures across parts of the West, Southwest, Plains States, Midwest, parts of the Northeast and northern Mid-Atlantic region. Near-average temperatures are favored for parts of the Southeast.

However, if you look at the map, there is an equal chance (33 percent) for near normal, the same for cooler than normal, and the same for warmer than normal for most of the Delta Farm Press hunting audience.

NOAA says its prediction is based on the pesky El Niño, which is going to strengthen, thus influencing the jet stream over the Pacific and precipitation and temperature patterns across the country. According to NOAA, that favors a warmer winter generally across the country.

The Farmer's Almanac, which has been forecasting weather whims for 188 years, is 180 degrees from the NOAA. Its winter prediction is for widespread cold from coast to coast; from the Gulf Coast to New England will be unseasonably cold. It makes its predictions up to two years in advance, using a formula from 1818, plus planetary positions, sunspots and the moon.

The Old Farmer's Almanac, North America's oldest continuously published periodical (1792) and famous for its long-range weather forecast, comes out every year in September. It agrees with the Farmer's Almanac, predicting a cold winter, basing its conclusion on “solar activities.” It claims a 99 percent accuracy rate and, in contrast to NOAA, the almanac votes for a namby-pamby El Niño.

The NOAA counters, “There are a bunch of people doing seasonal forecasts. They don't use the tools we use, which are state-of-the-art, and don't include sunspots.”

Surfing the TV channels I heard a weatherman suggest that the way the weather has started and the patterns as they exist could lead to some huge snowstorms. Early snows in the Northern Plains States, Upper Midwest, Buffalo and Maine somewhat remind me of last year when it was cold in the Northern states and pushed ducks down early, leading to above-average shooting for the first part of the 60-day season before it warmed back up and pushed the ducks back north.

Confused, I remembered what my Dad taught me many years ago. Sure signs of a bad winter: spiders spin larger than usual webs and enter your home in numbers; hornet's nest is high off the ground; early seclusion of bees in a hive; squirrels gather nuts early and how far a squirrel buries its acorns (the deeper the hole, the colder the winter); the moss growing on the south side of a tree (more moss means — you guessed it — a rough winter); any fruit tree that has a double season; and autumn leaves don't want to fall.

At the 10th annual Woolly Worm Festival in Hufnagle Park, Pa., the caterpillar's take on the weather is “the winter will be about average for temperature, and will bring snow.”

My Dad had some methods for detecting how much snow we will have: The number of mornings there is fog in August is the number of snowy days there will be the following winter. Beavers build larger, sturdier lodges when a snowy winter is expected. If you see the hair on horses and cows appearing thick early in spring then prepare for a snowy winter.

I hope this clears up the confusion regarding the weather for our upcoming hunting season. For me, I am still wondering if there is a meaning behind all the acorns that have fallen!