Weather fore art thou?

By Marion Tucker-Honeycutt | Feb 20, 2020
Courtesy of: Marion Tucker-Honeycutt Pilgrim weather glass.

Looking at weather reports on Accuweather, aka "hardly ever accurate weather," and NOAH along with the newscasts, it’s a guessing game as to what’s coming our way on any given day.

Grampa could tell the weather far better, using the age-old observational weather forecasting: reading the nature signs, like "Mackerel sky, never long wet, never long dry"; "Bird's flying low" meant storm coming, the dropping barometer hurts their ears so they fly closer to the ground (yes, birds have ears); same forecast if farm smells were more noticeable; "Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning" was one Jesus used when he was reminding the disciples about reading the weather one day out on the Sea of Galilee. Who knows just how old the saying is? Maybe as far back as those master seamen, the Phoenicians?

Two signs Grampa taught me that I still watch for in the winter are chimney smoke and the Snow-Sun. If the chimney smoke falls down the roof, storm's a-coming within the day. If the smoke rises easy into the sky, good day ahead. And if the sky is a pale steel-gray with the sun just showing through like a hazy white ball, that’s Grampa’s Snow-Sun. Get your snow shovels out.

Grampa Roy, when I was growing up on the farm, always had the "Old Farmer's Almanac" by his rocking chair beside the parlor stove. That was 80% accurate a whole year ahead, and before all the "advanced" weather-predicting paraphernalia. It also provided the monthly times of the moon phases, the tides, and other valuable information for farmers. They also had fun stories, fact and fiction. I would sit by Grampa’s knee and read through them, fascinated.

Used to be, long before the published almanacs and big supermarkets, most everyone grew their own food and kept a journal to keep note of the daily happenings on the farm. They kept track of livestock, feed, milk and butter yield, animals and such, but most important, up in the corner of each day's page, they jotted the weather. These journals provided, over the years, weather patterns they could use for figuring out the possible pattern for the coming year.

The current almanac most used today is titled just "Farmers' Almanac," published from 1818 to now, 202 years, in Maine. Now they're only 50% accurate, as even Wikipedia notes: "Most scientific analyses of the accuracy of Farmers' Almanac forecasts have shown a 50% rate of accuracy, no greater than random chance." You can get that by tossing a coin and with barometers on the wall.

The latter would include the super simple "Pilgrim's Weather Glass" that was brought over on the Mayflower 400 years ago. I have one on my wall, well, not a 400-year-old one, but one exactly the same. It’s a simple glass design with the goose-neck. Filled partway with colored water, it works as barometric pressure pushes the water level up the spout and will tell well in advance if there's a storm a-brewing. Watch out when it starts spouting over!

The first "Almanack" was published in 1732 by one of the most famous of our Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin. An American polymath, he was a politician, philosopher, postmaster, scientist, inventor (thank you, Ben, for the wood stove and bifocals), a statesman, including as ambassador to France, a writer and publisher/printer. And he could read and write cursive (tongue in cheek).

He published his “Almanack” under the pseudonym of Richard Saunders and titled it "Poor Richard - An Almanack." It included seasonal weather forecasts, practical household hints, puzzles, and other amusements.

Today, the "Old" Farmer's Almanac, a take-off on "Poor Richard's," first published in 1792 and still published in Dublin, New Hampshire. The originator was Robert B. Thomas, who developed his own formula for forecasting through studying solar activity, astronomy cycles and weather patterns. He held his 80% accuracy rate throughout his lifetime.

Few people have ever seen his formula and it remains locked in a black tin box at the Dublin office. This was the one Grampa Roy used and my favorite today although it, also, is now only 50% accurate.

Somebody ought to get into Thomas’s little black box.

Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, is a Maine native and graduate of Belfast schools. She now lives in Morrill.

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