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Acorns lie in bunches on a sidewalk under an oak tree off Wilcox Boulevard in Chattanooga.

HOW TO DEAL WITH THE ACORNS

1. Rake them. When you rake up your leaves, rake the acorns up with them and bag it all up.

2. Leave them. Squirrels and other animals love acorns, and they'll eat them if they're left out.

3. Plant them. If you're looking for more trees in your yard, plant some acorns where you'd like and you'll see saplings in the spring. But be careful to pick them up if you don't want trees -- there's a chance they'll grow anyway if left to their own devices.

4. Eat them. Acorns are edible, according to the book "Edible Wild Plants." To get rid of the bitter flavor present in many acorns, remove the hard shell and boil them in repeated changes of water until the water is no longer brown. Then, you can roast them and eat them, put them in candy or grind them down into a flour or meal.

COMPARING FORECASTS

Folklorist: A harsh winter, colder than normal, with above-average snowfall

National Weather Service: A colder winter than normal, but with average precipitation

Old Farmer's Almanac: A much colder winter than normal with above-average precipitation

If an overabundance of acorns indicates heavy snow ahead, as many folklorists claim, then Chattanooga is in for a rough winter.

Oak trees around Southeast Tennessee are producing far more acorns than usual this year, said Gene Hyde, forester for the city of Chattanooga.

"I've got 'em coming out my ears" at home, Hyde said.

In an average year, a mature white oak tree can produce 2,500 acorns and a scarlet oak can produce about 3,600, Hyde said.

Periods of heavy acorn production like we're experiencing, or "mast years," happen every five to seven years, he said.

That means one thing to Ashley McConnell, an Appalachian folk herbalist -- snow.

"With the acorns specifically, it's a snow prediction," she said.

She also expects a colder than normal winter.

Her winter forecast resembles those from the Old Farmer's Almanac and the National Weather Service, with a few differences.

Derek Eisentrout, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Morristown, Tenn., said it's likely Southeast Tennessee will experience a colder than normal winter, although he said precipitation will be about normal.

On average, Chattanooga experiences winter temperatures in the 30s and 40s and yearly snowfall of about 4 inches, according to U.S. climate data.

The Old Farmer's Almanac forecasts a much colder winter than normal, with above-average precipitation.

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But none of that gets at why there are more acorns this year.

Diane Warwick, a forestry program specialist for the state of Tennessee, said East Tennessee has seen a huge crop of all kinds of fruiting trees this year. She said it's a combination of weather and fate that resulted in the bumper crop.

"A lot of it has to do with when the pollen is flying and when the flowers are produced," she said. "A lot of the seed that we're seeing this year was actually formed last year."

Heavy rains, high winds or drought can all make oak trees have a harder time fertilizing, Warwick said.

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Hyde said these factors can lead to "acorn abortion," where acorns or flowers fall from the tree before the acorn is fully developed. This results in fewer acorns later. This year, good pollination weather in the spring and summer contributed to the overflow.

Meanwhile, like homeowners near and far, Hyde is dealing with the fallout -- he has to sweep his driveway twice a day just to keep up with the acorns produced by his white oak.

Contact staff writer Hannah Smith at hsmith@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6731.

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