Laura Dean Bennett
Well, it’s that time of year again, when America turns its winter-weary gaze to a groundhog’s burrow in Pennsylvania in the desperate hope of a prediction for an early spring.
Every February 2, at the midway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox, the world’s most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, takes center stage.
If Phil sees his shadow, we’re in for six more weeks of winter. If not…pheww! We’ll have an early spring.
Unfortunately, Phil is more often wrong than right.
Despite his keen interest in meteorology and his vast experience in making predictions, Phil had only been correct about 40 percent of the time.
Which, come to think about it, is probably not a bad average for a groundhog.
Phil started his predictions in 1887, making him almost certainly the oldest groundhog to have ever lived, which may account for his famously bad temper.
But, thank goodness, folklore has given us other ways of predicting winter weather.
Especially after the bitter January temperatures we’ve just survived, we’re understandably anxious to know how many more snowstorms are heading out way this winter.
First, it’s always important to make note of the date of the first snow of the winter because snow lore says that several predictions may be made from that date.
It can tell us the number of snows to expect.
For instance, if the first snow arrives on November 10, expect 10 snows that winter.
Another way to use the date of the first snowfall of the winter is to count backwards from that date to the last new moon.
The number of days to the last new moon will tell you the number of snows to expect.
And speaking of moon-related weather predictions, there’s the famous old saw, “A halo ‘round the moon means rain or snow soon.”
Rings or halo effects around the moon have lots of names – moon dogs, lunar halos, moon rings or winter rings – and it’s not just the “old people” who used to believe they could predict imminent rain or snow.
Many of us still do, after all, it does work sometimes.
Case in point – Friday, January 26, one night after the last full moon (January’s Wolf Moon, which occurred Thursday, January 25), the moon was encircled by a yellow ring.
About 24 hours later, on Saturday night, here came the deluge of rain. If it had been 15 degrees colder – it would have been snow.
The moon halo phenomenon is an atmospheric condition which happens when the light of the moon is refracted through the ice crystals present in cirrus clouds.
Cirrus clouds don’t cause a storm, but they will sometimes precede an incoming low-pressure system, which does bring precipitation.
Everyone knows “red sky in the morning, sailor take warning, red sky at night, sailor’s delight.” It’s probably the most famous weather prediction rhyme of all time (no pun intended).
But I wonder how many people know that it was quoted in the New Testament.
This venerable bit of old wives’ wisdom didn’t come from the Bible, but was mentioned in the Bible – by Jesus himself.
In the book of Matthew, Jesus refers to this very saying, so it was obviously already a well-known weather prediction over two thousand years ago.
In Matthew Chapter 16, verses 1-3, it says:
“One day the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test Jesus’ claim of being the Messiah by asking him to show them some great demonstrations in the skies.
“He replied, ‘You are good at reading the weather signs of the skies – red sky tonight means fair weather tomorrow; red sky in the morning means foul weather all day- but you can’t read the obvious signs of the times!’”
Besides having the endorsement of Jesus and two thousand years of use in cultures all over the world, this expression has some common sense and science to back it up.
For the sky to be red in the morning, it means that the weather is clear to the east, and as the sun rises in the east, it would reflect off the clouds in the west – which may be from an approaching storm.
To have a red sky in the evening, those storm clouds would have to be moving away, leaving the western sky clear for the sunset. So calmer weather would most likely be moving in.
The red sky theory is easy to remember and can be applicable to weather in every season.
Another old saw holds that if there is snow covering the ground for three days, it will snow again in 10 days.
And there seems to be a connection between birds and weather forecasting.
Many people say robins are harbingers of snow; that when a large flock lands in your yard, it means snow’s coming.
That may be so, but my mom always put her faith in the forecasting ability of the unassuming little junco, and so do I.
I don’t know where juncos usually hang out. I know they’re always here in the winter, but I rarely see them.
But then, there comes a day when they suddenly appear on the ground under the bird feeders.
And it’s usually not long after the juncos arrive – maybe a day or so – that we’ll have a snowfall.
Some people watch the behavior of wild turkeys, believing that when wild turkeys perch in trees and refuse to come down, snow is imminent.
Some prefer to listen for thunder in wintertime, believing that if one hears thunder, snow will follow seven days later.
And others think that if the tree frogs sing for three nights in a row, there won’t be any more snow that season. Whether there’s anything more than wishful thinking to that one, I don’t know.
Of course, we don’t need moon halos, animals or birds to tell us the exact date when spring is coming – we’ve got calendars for that.
Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the first day of spring, and the start of the vernal equinox, will be on March 19, 2024.
But just because the calendar says it’s spring doesn’t mean it will really be spring.
As you know, here in Pocahontas County, spring may not really arrive until sometime in May.
We’re just as likely to have snow or at least a late frost in April, or we might get lucky and have a glorious and wonderful early spring.
Remember not to get your hopes up too high. Some of the old folks believed that there would always be three snows after the forsythia blooms.
They also believed that when the dogwood trees are in full bloom, there are yet a few days of cold weather to come, hence the expression, “Dogwood Winter.”
If you’d like to do your own weather forecasting, here are the directions for an old-timey, all season weather station.
Tie a rope around a rock and hang it perpendicular from the branch of a tree so that it rests about two feet from the ground.
Observe the rock carefully.
If the rock hangs still, there’s no wind; if it sways to and fro, a moderate wind is blowing; if it hangs level with the branch, there’s a hurricane; if it’s wet, it’s raining; if it has snow on it, it’s snowing. And if it’s missing, somebody stole it.