VERMILION — First, there were the jeers.
That’s what happened when famed local meteorologist Dick Goddard delivered the first part of his prediction on how Northeast Ohio will fare this winter.
“Winter will get off to an unusually cold and snowy start,” he said at the end of this year’s Woollybear Festival, a one-day celebration in honor of an orange and black caterpillar commonly found in the region. “The cold and snow will moderate as we enter the new year and spring will arrive earlier than usual.”
Cue the cheers. News of an early spring regardless of the origin is music to the ears of anyone who has braved an Ohio winter. Even through a prediction based on the amount of one color over another on any particular caterpillar is not exactly a scientific method. The crowd of hundreds gathered a stone’s throw from Lake Erie clapped and celebrated the news anyway.
“Most of us will say ‘where did summer go’,” Goddard said. “Few will say ‘where did winter go.’”
Goddard’s prediction is the capstone that ends a day that includes a parade, costumed pets and the ever popular Woollybear 500, a small race with the smallest and most honored racers of the day — the woolly bear.
“I found mine on my front porch,” said 12-year-old Brandon Melvin of Sheffield Lake. It was his caterpillar Joey who earned the title of fastest woolly bear of the year. He crossed the finish line in the final heat of the day in a cool 21.4 seconds.
A little coaxing from Brandon is all Joey needed to cross the finish line, which was best measured in inches than feet.
The top four racers included Chase William, Brimley Partin and Ally Nah, all of Vermillion.
With weather that cooperated up to the very end, this year’s festival was well attended. In total, 130 contestants raced woolly bears, 32 children vied for the title of festival king and queen — the honor went to Xavier Gonzales, 3, of North Olmsted and Jade Butler, 6, of Indian Lake, respectively — and 33 attendees brought pets and dressed them for the occasion. The best dog award went to Carol Osadciw of Brunswick and her two dogs, Chewy and Princess.
The festival not only brings out the best in pet owners, but it also is the only time it’s acceptable to let something creepy crawl all over your hand.
“I think he’s cute,” said 11-year-old Cadence Brink. Her woolly bear Bobby was right at home in the sixth-graders hands. She displayed an obvious love for Bobby, but shook her head no when asked if she equally liked other insects like spiders.
“She just likes the bugs that have festivals,” added her father.