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Winter Weather Folklore

How Nature Warns of a Hard Winter

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Every year, as the summer sun fades and autumn nears, one question emerges in the minds of residents everywhere...

“What kind of winter will this year bring?”

Official winter outlooks are typically released in October. But if this is simply too long to wait, why not head outside and put the power of forecasting into your own hands--with the aid of weather folklore, that is! Beginning as early as August and September, keep an observant eye on these plants, animals, and insects to see what their behavior suggests for your locale.

August Weather

David Sutherland / Getty Images

A significant amount of winter lore has to do with observing weather conditions during the month of August. (Perhaps because it's the transition point between the last summer and first fall months?)

  • For every fog in August there will be a snowfall.
  • If the first week in August is unusually warm, the coming winter will be snowy and long.
  • If a cold August follows a hot July, it foretells a winter hard and dry.

Acorn 'Drops'

USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station

Have an oak tree near your house? Noticed the ground of your yard, driveway, or porch overrun with acorns? If so, folklore predicts that these same surfaces may be blanketed by snow this winter.

Not only the acorn, but its connoisseur--the squirrel--is also linked to winter weather. If squirrels are more active than usual, it's considered an indication that a severe winter is on its way. And its no wonder why. During the autumn and winter season, a squirrel's main task is gathering nuts and seeds for its storehouse, so if its efforts have noticeably increased, it could only mean he's preparing for the worst.

Squirrels gathering nuts in a flurry,
Will cause snow to gather in a hurry.

Persimmon Seeds

Ingo Jezierski / Getty Images

Available October through February, this fruit has more uses than just culinary! A persimmon's seeds are thought to foretell the type of winter expected. Carefully cut them open lengthwise. What do you see inside?

  • A spoon-shaped pattern is said to represent a shovel for all of the heavy, wet snow to come.
  • A knife signals a cold, icy winter with cutting winds.
  • If a fork is visible, it means that a generally mild winter with only light powdery snow can be expected.

While it makes no difference if the persimmon is picked or purchased, if you do the latter, be sure to choose one that was grown locally--otherwise you risk getting false results!

A tough winter is also said to be ahead if:

  • Onions or cornhusks have thicker than normal skins
  • Leaves fall from the trees late in the year

Woolly Worms

© Flickr user welovethedark

The larvae of Isabella tiger moths--more commonly known as woolly worms, or woolly bear caterpillars--are easily recognized by their short, stiff bristles of reddish-brown and black hair. According to legend, the width of the middle brown band judges the severity of the upcoming winter. If the brown band is narrow, the winter will be cold and long. However, if the band is wide, then the winter will be a mild and short one.

Some consider the woolly's hair thickness to be another indicator, with a thicker coat signaling a harsher, and sparse hairs a milder winter season. (What's more, the woolly has exactly 13 segments to the length of his body--the same number of weeks there are of winter.)

The woolly worm's talent was first discovered in the late 1940s by Dr. Charles Curran, former curator of insects at New York City’s Museum of Natural History. By observing catepillar markings and comparing these to winter weather forecasts (provided by a reporter at the New York Herald Tribune) Curran found that the width of reddish-brown hair correctly matched the winter type with 80% accuracy. Since then, researchers haven't been able to replicate Dr. Curran's success (coloration is said to have less to do with weather and more to do with a caterpillar's development stage and genetics), but this hasn't seemed to influence the woolly worm's popularity. In fact, annual festivals are held in its honor in the cities of Banner Elk, NC, Beattyville, KY, Vermilion, OH, and Lewisburg, PA!

Other insect lore includes:

  • Ants marching single file (as opposed to meandering)
  • Crickets (and other creatures) taking up residence inside your house
  • Bees building nests high in the trees
  • Spiders spinning larger-than-usual webs

Halos in the Sky

Ron Hess, NOAA NWS

Once winter finally does arrive, use this rhyme to predict approaching snowstorms:

Halo around the sun or moon,
Rain or snow soon.

Halos are caused by sunlight and moonlight refracting off of ice crystals in cirrus clouds (the cloud type that precedes an approaching warm front). Seeing high level moisure is a good sign that moisture will soon also be moving in at increasingly lower levels. So the association between a halo and rain/snow is one bit of folklore that rings scientifically true.

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