Weather is a favorite topic of conversation in America, it is safe, not likely to get people wound up, and always interesting. Weather lore has been around as long as there has been weather and people to talk about it, and I will take a weather conversation over politics any day.
New Englanders have a long list of proverbs to help us decide whether to grab that extra scarf or not. Some are poetic and imaginative, while others prove to be true. “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight, red sky at morning, sailors take warning” is among the most well-known, and I’ll bet you have used it more than once. People have been saying it for over 2000 years, and yes, there is sound science behind it. In a nutshell, low pressure indicates oncoming bad weather, high pressure indicates better weather, and light is and light is reflected differently depending on the pressure. An excellent explanation can be found here.
How cold is it? The cricket knows. And so does the rhododendron.
Quiz questions: 1. Can a cricket tell the temperature 2. Does a sun halo mean snow?
I have rhododendron outside the house, and a quick glance will tell me if it is bitterly cold, or just so-so. The tighter they curl up, the colder it is.
My dad was an amateur weather watcher, and Eric Sloane’s Weather Book was one of his bibles. Some of his interest must have rubbed off because one of my favorite childhood Christmas gifts was a weather station kit with a rain gauge, a windspeed guage, a barometer, and lots of other tools and record-keeping paraphernalia in a large cardboard drum. I recall unwrapping the round cardboard barrel guessing Tinker Toys or Lincoln Logs, and grinning with delight at the unexpected weather station within. We spent the next few years learning to be weather wise.
I learned a many bits of weather folklore from my father, and we talked about the wooly bear caterpillers many times. Dr. Curran, founder of The Original Society of the Friends of the Woolly Bear, once diligently recorded the band width of woollies, and the ensuing weather.
Quiz questions: 3. Does falling smoke indicate bad weather ahead? 4. Can woolly bear caterpillars predict how cold the winter will be?
Dr. Curran said inconclusive, so there is room to go both ways on the woolly bears.
Many of these proverbs are alliterative, or have a rhyming pattern, making them excellent mnemonic devices for aspiring weather predictors.
“If the ash leafs out before the oak, get ready for a mighty soak, if the oak leafs out before the ash, it will only be a little splash.” I give thanks to whichever ancestor developed this couplet, because it is fail safe. You really can’t say “if the oak leafs before the ash it will be a mighty soak.” As someone who can never remember if it is feed a cold starve a fever or starve a cold feed a fever, a well-composed proverb is worth its weight in sunshine.
Quiz Questions: 5. Do ladybugs foretell warm days ahead? 6. Does a cow’s tail tell of fair skies? 7. Does traveling sound mean storms ahead?
While not exactly weather, my husband swears by the adage ”When an alder’s leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear, the trout will be here.” There is no documentation on this one, but I can say the trout he catches when those alder leaves are like little mice ears are delicious.
Quiz questions: 8. Do squirrels lay in extra nuts when cold winters are ahead? 9. Does seaweed gleam wet if rain is ahead?
The old farmer’s almanac says: “Heavy crops of acorns, rose hips, hawthorn and other berries mean a hard winter is ahead,” but this past fall had the biggest bumper crop of acorns I have ever seen, and a pretty wimpy winter followed. So many proverbs–some are right and some not so right. It might seem easy to toss them all aside as folklore, but I like to use the ones that have been backed up with hard science. How satisfying it is to gaze at a red, rosy, seemingly innocent morning sky, and nod knowingly, “ Rough weather ahead.”
When I went to take photos of the temperature with the rhododendron leaves, I tried different weather stations to get the best contrasting screen. I expected them all to be within a few degrees of each other. The range was 6 degrees F to minus fourteen, however. So the next question is: “Weather stations, some are true, some are not, how many do you know?”
Or if you want the temperature, just go ask a cricket.
If you cannot open the answer jpgs, here are the answers, in short version:
- True, 2. False, 3. False, 4.True, 5.True, 6.True, 7. False, 8. False, 9.True