Weather Folklore

Every February 2, groundhogs across the country are enlisted to predict whether we will have six more weeks of Winter or an early Spring. Punxsatawney Phil is the most famous of the bunch and he says that this year we will have six more weeks of Winter.

In Wisconsin, Wynter saw his shadow at the Milwaukee County Zoo. And while Jimmy, the Sun Prairie, WI groundhog also saw his shadow, he also taught the Mayor of the town not to get too close.

According to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, then spring will come early; if it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its burrow, and the weather will persist for six more weeks. The celebration, which began as a Pennsylvania German custom in southeastern and central Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, has its origins in ancient European weather lore, wherein a badger or sacred bear is the prognosticator as opposed to a groundhog. The custom is thought to relate to Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.

An old Scottish poem states:
If Candle-mas Day is bright and clear,
There’ll be two winters in the year.

If Candle mas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

This particular piece of weather folklore is not an accurate predictor of weather.  It is also just one of many ways that people predicted the weather before meteorologists started improving on our forecasting ability.

Some Popular Weather Folklore

Weathervane_in_Dayton,_IndianaWeather folklore is often dismissed as nothing more than a grab bag of sayings, old wives’ tales, legends, and superstitions. In other words, folklore is considered the opposite of science. But folklore and science have more in common than you might imagine. What we call scientific method is based on observation and evidence –  and so is a great deal of weather folklore.

Some fall/winter sayings include:

  • When leaves fall early, autumn and winter will be mild; when leave fall later, winter will be severe.
  • Flowers blooming in late autumn are a sign of a bad winter.
  • A warm November is the sign of a bad winter.
  • Thunder in the fall foretells a cold winter.

Other Popular Weather Folklore

CRICKETS CHIRP FASTER WHEN IT’S WARM AND SLOWER WHEN IT’S COLD.

Crickets can indeed serve as thermometers. Tradition says that if you count the cricket’s chirps for 14 seconds and then add 40, you will obtain the temperature in Fahrenheit at the cricket’s location.

MARCH COMES IN LIKE A LION AND GOES OUT LIKE A LAMB.

This well known saying is derived from the observation that March begins in winter and ends in spring. In northern latitudes temperatures are generally higher by the end of the month than during its first weeks. We may also look to the heavens to determine an explanation, the constellation of Leo, the lion, dominates the skies at the beginning of the month and the constellation Aries, the ram or lamb, prevails as the month winds down.

NO WEATHER IS ILL, IF THE WIND IS STILL

Calm conditions, especially with clear skies, indicate the dominance of a high-pressure system. When they are absent or weak, precipitation and cloud formation are much less likely. But let’s not forget the saying “the calm before the storm”. Thunderstorms frequently develop in environments where winds are low. Calm conditions can also occur on very cold days with clear skies. People shivering with the cold, might not think that a still wind bodes no ill.

WHEN WINDOWS WON’T OPEN, AND THE SALT CLOGS THE SHAKER, THE WEATHER WILL FAVOR THE UMBRELLA MAKER!

Windows with wood frames tend to stick when the air is full of moisture. The moisture swells the wood, making windows and doors more difficult to budge. By the same token, salt is very effective at absorbing moisture, so it clumps together rather than pouring out. As moisture collects in the air, there is a greater likelihood of precipitation.

WHEN A HALO RINGS THE MOON OR SUN, RAIN’S APPROACHING ON THE RUN.

A halo appears around the moon or the sun when ice crystals at high altitudes refract the moonlight (or sunlight). That is a good indication that moisture is descending to lower altitudes, where it is likely to take the form of precipitation. A halo is a more reliable indicator of storms in warmer months than during winter months.

SHARP HORNS ON THE MOON THREATEN BAD WEATHER.

The moon in this instance is supposed to predict precipitation because it is perceived as being in the shape of a bowl, which means that it is filling with water or snow. If it’s “horns” are tipped to the side, some people believe that precipitation will descend.

WHEN THE SUN DRAWS WATER, STORMS WILL FOLLOW.

The sun does not draw water. This saying describes an optical illusion in which the sun’s rays alternate with bands of shadow to produce a fanlike effect. Those shadowy patches are dense clouds, some of which are thin enough to allow sunlight to reach earth. However, the saying is not without merit. If the sun is obscured in the west, it means that moisture-laden clouds have gathered there, and it’s quite possible that rain will follow if the temperature is favorable for the condensation of that moisture.

LIGHTNING NEVER STRIKES THE SAME PLACE TWICE.

This is one of the most famous weather sayings – and it’s wrong. Lightning not only can strike the same place twice, but it seems to prefer high locations. New York City’s Empire State Building, for example, is struck about 25 times every year.

TORNADOES DON’T HAPPEN IN THE MOUNTAINS.

Tornadoes do occur in the mountains. Damage from a tornado has been reported above 10,000 feet. Tornadoes have barreled across mountain chains including the Appalachians, the Rockies, and the Sierra Nevada. In 1987, an especially violent tornado crossed the Continental Divide in Yellowstone National Park.

There are hundreds of sayings and expressions that have become a part of weather folklore. Feel free to let us know if you have any favorites.

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