RFD Maine — Weather Lore
Someone asked me the other day what kind of winter we will have this year. My answer was probably not what he expected. I told him that I had no way of knowing in advance what kind of winter was coming, and neither did anyone else.
This was probably not in keeping with what people might expect from someone such as me. After all, I’m the “nature guy.” I know what wild plants to eat and which to use as medicine. I can catch fish, hunt game and generally provide for myself. I know one tree from another and I can predict with a reasonable certainty when fish will bite. But as per long-range weather forecasting? Forget it.
Country, or folk wisdom abounds with methods for divining the weather months in advance. For instance, folklore perpetuates the notion that a given amount of precipitation will fall each year. Whether that precipitation arrives in the form of rain or snow is immaterial. However, the two must balance out to form an average. “If we don’t get it now, we’ll get it later,” people sometimes say.
In other words, if we have a long, dry summer with little rain, we must make up for it the following winter with above-average snowfall. And that snowfall, if converted to inches of rain, when added to whatever rain we did get in the warm season, will equal the total yearly rainfall average.
The trouble with the above theory is that it just doesn’t work. But it’s fun to consider and to tinker with.
Also regarding precipitation, I can recall my grandpa telling me that winter could never come until the swamps were full of water. As a child I blindly accepted that dictum and never thought of questioning it. In fact, we saw year upon year when it appeared as if grandpa’s weather lore were accurate. But then we had a string of years that shot the old theory full of holes. The amount of water in swamps, in my opinion, has nothing to do with the onset of winter.
People often attribute miraculous powers of prescience to animals. “They have a way of knowing,” I’ve been told. Maybe so. But how, then, does that explain the stone-dead mouse I saw next to a deadly toxic Amanita mushroom? The mushroom had a mouse-sized bite taken out of it.
Or what about the birds that fly into plate-glass windows and doors because they are fooled by the reflection and think it’s open sky? Shouldn’t they have had a way of knowing?
All the same, many of us fully believe that the actions of animals are predicated upon the upcoming season. For instance, it is said that muskrats build their lodges extra high in order to keep above the deep snows of winter. And when muskrat lodges are rather squat and low we are in for an open winter, one with very little snow.
But muskrats are communal creatures and sometimes not only families but even close neighbors spend time together in the safety of their lodges during the winter months. Lodge size, then, is probably predicated upon the number of muskrats in the area, not by whether or not the animals believe we will have either a severe or mild winter.
Wooly bear caterpillars, the immature form of the Isabella moth, stands as one of the best-known animal weather forecasters. Wooly bears have two black ends and an orange middle. The length of the orange middle, when compared to the black ends, represents the length of fall, winter and spring, respectively. When the black ends are but dots and the caterpillar is nearly all orange, we had better watch out. And conversely, when the black ends are as large as or larger than the orange middle, we can count upon an easy winter and an early spring.
But what do caterpillars know? And even if they did have knowledge of anything more than where their next meal might come from, how could they possibly change anything at all about their physical appearance? Fact is, they couldn’t. Think of it this way. If humans cannot, by wishing, change the amount or color of hairs on their head, they certainly would. So if we can’t, it’s a sure bet that caterpillars can’t.
And then we have bees' nests. Most everyone has heard the old adage that when bees build their nests high off the ground, then that means that the coming winter will see deep snow. If bees' nests are low to the ground, well then, we might want to put off buying that new snowmobile.
But bees haven’t any more idea of what the next winter will bring than I do. And I, as the old fella once said, “don’t know nawthin’ about it.”
Still, when we see a wasp nest unusually high in a tree, it makes even the most pragmatic among us wonder if the old maxim has any basis in fact. Well let me tell you that for one, I surely hope it doesn’t. A colony of paper wasps recently built a nest at least 60 feet in the air, way up in a white pine tree in my yard.
So if the bees' nest blather is at all dependable, we all should pack our bags and make reservations for the southern climes. But don’t worry. Bees don’t have any way of knowing. In the case of the wasp nest in my pine tree, I should note that it is attached to the stub of a limb that broke off during the ice storm of 1998. It looks to me as if it was just made for a big wasp’s nest. So being ever-ready to take advantage of a fortuitous situation, the wasps built their nests on that limb stub despite it being in the high-rise neighborhood.
Of course we can all benefit from boning up on short-term weather predictors. Such wisdom as this is ancient, handed down through the generations. In fact, the Bible contains lots of references to weather predicting. Here are a few reliable, short-term ways to fathom the coming weather:
· An abundance of cirrus clouds, those high, thin, feathery clouds, mean rain within 24 hours.
· In summer, a ring, or halo around the sun or moon means rain in 24 hours or so.
· Heavy dew on grass early in the morning means clear weather all day. If the grass is dry in the morning and the air is still and warm, it may mean the onset of a storm.
· When smoke from a chimney flows down toward the ground, a storm is coming. If smoke rises straight up, clear weather will continue.
· Finally, the old rhyme, “Rainbow in the morning sailor take warning; rainbow at night, sailor’s delight,” is an accurate way to measure coming weather.
So have fun with weather lore. But don’t believe those folksy long-range forecasts.