For Joe Mullis, predicting how much snow a winter will bring runs in the family. Using beans and the fogs of August, Mullis and his mother, Frances Mullis, have been predicting how many snows a winter will bring his entire life - and with quite a bit of accuracy, he says.
According to Mullis, who has worked for the Parker Tie Company in West Jefferson for 17 years, the key is tracking the fogs in August - a theory also used by the Native Americans and the Amish.
"A real big heavy fog, that's going to be a big snow of more than four inches," said Mullis. "A little, wispy fog - that's a little snow. It will cover the ground enough to track a rabbit up to four inches."
For every thick fog, Mullis places a big bean in a jar. For every little fog, he puts in a small bean. Once the winter arrives, Mullis removes a bean after every snow and finds out how accurate he was at the end of the season.
"Out of the last 20 years, one year I was off one bean," said Mullis. "The rest of the time I think we were right on it. ... It hits as good as the weather man."
This year, Mullis is expecting a heavy winter, with nine big beans and eight small beans in his jar.
"It's unusual to have more big beans than little beans" he said, noting that his jar usually contains around four big beans and five small beans.
In addition to the increase in snow, Mullis is also predicting an occurrence he has never predicted before.
"It's what the Indians call a 'Black Squirrel' winter or the 'Winter of Sorrows'," he said. "My mom's 86 and this is the first year she's seen the black squirrel. We've all seen them this year. That's supposed to be the harbinger of something bad."
Mullis recommend that everyone stock up with "a little extra food and a little extra wood.
"There will be more ice this year, I'm afraid, and if there is there will be a lot of power outages possible," he said. "Just be ready, and if you have to stay in for a few days have plenty to eat and something to keep you warm."
Mullis acknowledges that "a lot of people laugh at this," but noted that many of the people that use to laugh are now the ones asking about the beans in his jar. He also hinted that he might prefer to be wrong in some cases.
"Personally, I don't care if it snows," he said. "but I believe it will be a lot colder ... than we've seen in a lot of years."
Not all sources agree with this theory. Although Mullis is predicting a winter full of snow, the Farmer's Almanac is predicting average temperatures and precipitation for most of the East Coast and a mild and wet winter for the southeast.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, on the other hand, is predicting cooler than average temperatures for the southeast.