Predicting winter weather with facts and folklore

  • Car lights in a winter storm. (123RF)

We know all the scientific explanations of the signs leading from fall into winter. The obvious one is that deciduous trees and shrubs stop producing chlorophyll and shed their leaves.

Then there are the technical changes. The heating system clicks on in the middle of the night and the sound of lawnmowers and weed whackers cease. Then someone turns the hands of the clock and O-dark-30 arrives at 5 p.m.

In the world of high-tech living with instant knowledge at our finger tips, we have forgotten, or maybe never knew, the whimsies and folklore of our grandparents. We seem to only be aware of demonstrable facts.

From grandma’s and grandpa’s notebook:

Fall color: If leaves fall from the trees while still green, winter will be mild.

If peak fall color is early, the winter will be mild. The later the peak, he colder the weather.

Corn: If the husk is heavy, it’ll be a hard winter.

Flowers: When spring blooming flowers have a second bloom in fall, you can expect a cold winter.

Berries: An abundant crop of berries means a cold and snowy winter.

August: If the first week of August is unusually warm, the coming winter will be snowy and long. (note from my garden journal: The temperature was 95 on Aug. 5).

Onion skins: Thin skins means mild winter. Thick tough skins means cold and rough.

Hogs: When hogs squeal, romp and play, expect snow by the end of the day.

Weeds: As high as the weeds grow, so will the bank of snow.

Bees: “See how high the hornet’s nest, will tell how high the snow will rest.”

Water fowl: The early departure of ducks and geese indicates a hard winter to come.

Snow: Snow like cotton, soon forgotten, snow like meal, it’ll snow a great deal.

If the first snowfall lands on unfrozen ground, the winter will be mild.

Evergreen myth: According to ancient Cherokee legend, when plants were first created, they were told to fast and stay awake for seven days to gain spirit power. Many managed through the first night, but by the seventh night, only the cedar, spruce, pine, holly and laurel were still awake. As a reward, these species would always be green while the others would lose their leaves in the fall. The story is told in “James Mooney’s History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees.”

I purchased a copy of “The Old Farmer’s Almanac 2020” to decide if I needed to actually purchase snow boots this year. My feet didn’t fare well last winter.

I looked up region 13 for the intermountain forecast. Region 13 is an irregular-shaped area from the Washington-Canadian border headed south, including parts of Oregon, Idaho, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.

The forecast is that winter temperatures will be above normal, on average, in the north and below average in central and southern portions of the region. I’ll be optimistic in thinking we are in the northern section of region 13.

The snowfall is predicted to be above normal. In part—“from northern Michigan westward to Puget Sound and the Intermountain region.” With that in mind I guess I will start watching for a prewinter boot sale.

The best we can do is rely on the saying of a co-worker who was raising triplets and often dealt with “I want what she has” from her children. My friend would answer very sweetly, ‘You get what you get and don’t throw a fit.” Perhaps we should view the winter of 2020 in the same context.

— Reporter:

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