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The Old Farmer’s Almanac has always included long-range predictions of the weather. They never reveal their methodology, but I imagine it is part meteorology, part historic patterns, solar cycles and part guessing. This year it predicts that it will be especially bad. Even places that don’t usually get much snowfall, like the Pacific Northwest, will get a lot.

How did the Almanac do with its August 2016 predictions for Paradelle here in the Atlantic Corridor? They say the temperature would average 74° but it was much hotter this month. Precipitation was predicted at 5.5 inches – 1.5″ above average and the hot weather has brought lots of storms. We did not have any “tropical storm threat” for the 15th-18, and so far, no “hurricane threat” for the  22-31 period – and let’s keep it that way.

Predictions for the upcoming seasons based on signs from nature are probably just as accurate -or inaccurate – but I find them more enjoyable to “read.”

It might seem early to be thinking about winter in summer and autumn, but in the world of weather lore, traditions and beliefs were based on observations of the environment and the preceding weather. Much weather lore is based on the effects we can observe in changes with insects, animals, birds, plants and people.

One example that has been used for many years is checking the black bands on a woolly bear caterpillar. Weather folklore suggests that the colors predict the upcoming winter.

Those early New World Colonists knew the woolly bear, a brownish-black caterpillar, which is still a pretty common sight inching across roads and surfaces on warm days. The caterpillar hatches from an egg in warm weather months, eats until fall and then they seek winter shelter until spring.

Woolly bears have 13 segments which are colored black and reddish-brown. Weather lore says that says those colors predict the upcoming winter and that the wider a woolly bear’s middle brown section, the milder the winter. On the other hand, if there is more black than brown, the upcoming winter should prove harsh.

Scientists pretty much dismiss almost all weather folklore including this caterpillar’s weather-predicting ability. Their research shows that a better growing season in nature means a woolly bear grows too. When it comes to coloring, that seems to be based on age. As it ages, a caterpillar sheds its outer layer up to six times before reaching adult size. Each time it molts, it becomes less black and more reddish. So old caterpillars mean a mild winter. (By the way, that caterpillar will spin a cocoon next spring and then emerge as an Isabella tiger moth.)

Gathering food early. Bushy tail. What does that mean?

Of course, that doesn’t mean that there is no truth to all the weather lore passed on for generations.

So, turn on your recent memory and see what you can recall of these traditional winter weather indicators from the past weeks and months.

  1. If ant hills are high in July, winter will be snowy.
  2. If the first week in August is unusually warm, the coming winter will be snowy and long.
  3. For every fog in August, there will be a snowfall in winter.
  4. If a cold August follows a hot July, it foretells a winter hard and dry.
  5. When leaves fall early, fall and Winter will be mild. When leaves fall late,winter will be severe.
  6. Squirrels gathering nuts in a flurry, will cause snow to gather in a hurry. And when squirrels’ tails are very bushy, that’s a sign of a tough winter to come.
  7. Much rain in October, much wind in December.
  8. A warm October, a cold February.
  9. For farmers, a tough Winter is ahead if corn husks are thick and tight. The same applies for apple skins. And when onion skins are very thin,
    a mild Winter coming in. But onion skins thick and tough, the coming Winter cold and rough.
  10. Ironically, more signs of a rough winter are when berries and nuts are plentiful.
  11. When bees build their nests high in the trees, they expect a hard winter.

And some signs that are still to come…

  • Full Moon in October without frost, then no frost ‘until November’s Full Moon.
  • Flowers bloomin’ in late Autumn, A sure sign of a bad Winter comin’.
  • A warm November is the sign of a bad Winter.
  • As high as the weeds grow, So will the bank of snow.
  • Thunder in the Fall foretells a cold Winter.
  • Check back in at the year’s end to see if it’s true that a green Christmas means a white Easter, and if there’s thunder during Christmas week, the Winter will be anything but meek.

What have you observed so far in your piece of the world?


Most people would not see any connection between the newly released film Hope Springs with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, and a film from earlier this year called Jeff, Who Lives at Home. I saw the former in the theater last week and watched the latter on DVD a few days ago. Very different films. I liked both of them a lot.

Hope Springs is about a couple that after 31 years together go to Great Hope Springs, Maine to work with a famous therapist to try to rediscover the reasons why they married so long ago.

In the other film, Jason Segel plays Jeff who is simply looking for meaning in his life. He is a stoner slacker who has been pretty much written off by his brother and mother, but he knows that signs are leading him towards meaning.

The connections are signs.

Jeff was powerfully influenced by the film Signs. That’s a film that focuses,in  B-movie thriller style, on an alien-invasion and was directed by M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable).

The film tracks a series of signs and portents that come to a  family in Pennsylvania who wake up one morning to find a 500-foot crop circle in their backyard. The news tells them that crop circles are being found all over the world.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home was directed by the Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark, who have directed some rather eccentric and funny films like The Puffy Chair, Baghead and Cyrus.  Jeff, Who Lives at Home  is more of a major studio, major names film, but it is still an odd one in all the best ways.

Kay and Arnold have been married for 31 years. Jeff has been on the planet for 30 years.They are both searching for answers because they can see the signs.

The couple has a therapist as a guide. Jeff has only himself to interpret the signs. He reminds me of the father in the TV show Touch that I wrote about earlier who is trying to find the red thread that his son sees.

Everything is connected. Everything has a purpose.

Jeff is living in his mom’s Baton Rouge basement. He watches TV, smokes pot, eats junk food and does not go out into the world. One critic said that Jeff,  in his soul, is a “character out of Dostoevsky – a holy fool.”

Random events ( a television infomercial, a wrong number, a stranger on a bus) are not random. There are no accidents in the universe.

More than ten years ago, I read the book There Are No Accidents: Synchronicity and the Stories of Our Lives by Robert H. Hopcke. Hopcke is a Jungian marriage and family psychotherapist. (A therapist, like in Hope Springs – coincidence? Of course not.)

The book explores the nature and role of synchronicity.  It was Carl Jung who coined the term “synchronicity” to describe those odd “coincidences” and events that seem to tell us something, teach us and sometimes turn our lives around. They make life a  grand, mysterious story.

But how do you identify these coincidences as signs and uncover their significance so that they turn our lives towards greater meaning.

Some of the stories in the book – a woman is set up on a blind date with the same man twice, years apart, on two different coasts; a singer’s career changes direction when she walks into the wrong audition; a man gives his wife an unexpected gift, after she repeatedly dreams about that very same item – will trigger memories of your own synchronicities.

One of Jung’s favorite quotes on synchronicity was from Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll, in which the White Queen says to Alice:

“It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards. The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday–but never jam to-day.’

‘It MUST come sometimes to “jam to-day,”‘ Alice objected.

‘No, it can’t,’ said the Queen. ‘It’s jam every OTHER day: to-day isn’t any OTHER day, you know.’

‘I don’t understand you,’ said Alice. ‘It’s dreadfully confusing!’

‘That’s the effect of living backwards,’ the Queen said kindly: ‘it always makes one a little giddy at first–‘

‘Living backwards!’ Alice repeated in great astonishment. ‘I never heard of such a thing!’

‘–but there’s one great advantage in it, that one’s memory works both ways.’

‘I’m sure MINE only works one way,’ Alice remarked. ‘I can’t remember things before they happen.’

‘It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,’ the Queen remarked.

Do you remember back in December 2004 when giant waves slammed into Sri Lanka and the India coastlines? One story that kept getting retold was that wild and domestic animals seemed to know what was about to happen and fled to safety.

Elephants moving to higher ground.

Eyewitnesses reported that elephants screamed and ran for higher ground, dogs refused to go outdoors, flamingos abandoned their low-lying breeding areas, and zoo animals rushed into their shelters and could not be enticed to come back out.

Do animals possess a sixth sense that allows them to know in advance when natural events from storms to earthquakes will occur?

The first response to this question is generally that animals’ more acute hearing and other senses might give them a big advantage over humans.

After that 2004 tsunami, relatively few animals were reported dead. In the world’s most earthquake-prone country, Japan, researchers have long studied animals in hopes of discovering what they hear or feel before earthquakes in the hope of using it as a predictive tool.

Since earthquakes bring vibrational changes on land and in water and storms cause electromagnetic changes in the atmosphere, some people believe animals use their sense of hearing and smell to determine something is coming.

Did humans also have this early warning sense at one time, but lost it as they evolved and moved away from nature.

I thought about this again recently when I read a post on the Small Farm Life blog by Fritz Nordengren.

On June 1, he was  mowing when he noticed that his ducks had returned to their pen earlier than usual. Then he saw that a flock of geese changed direction over the farm and set down in a pond that they don’t normally go to.  His dog, Zinger, who usually watches him mow from under the deck, followed him back and forth in the field.

He went inside and checked his computer for local radar and found that a tornado had struck about 30 minutes from his farm.

Many animals sense a change in pressure and other atmospheric factors. An old nature watcher told me when I was a kid that I should watch birds like swallows. They will fly much closer to the ground prior to a thunderstorms.  He told me it was really the insects who were somewhat disoriented and would fly lower and the birds followed to feed on them.  I have noticed that many times since – though usually it’s because I know (via a weather report) that a storm is coming, so I look for the nature signs.

I saw  a post that said that a survey done via Google Earth imagery showed that across the planet cattle and flock animals tend to face north.  Do they sense the earth’s magnetic field?  It makes sense. Researchers have shown that many birds do.

But scientists are not totally on board with animals having a living Doppler radar system.

For example, perhaps you’ve heard of the “Farmer’s Almanac science” about the banded woolly bear caterpillar. Some people believe this furry insect, which blossoms into a tiger moth in spring, can predict the severity of the coming winter. Weather folklore says that if the caterpillar’s center brown stripe is long, winter will be milder.  But, if the two black stripes running on either side are longer than the center stripe, a bad winter is coming.

Unfortunately, researchers checking on them over the course of years  found that sometimes one group of woolly bear caterpillars living near a second group had stripes that completely contradicted each other, thus discrediting their predictive usefulness.

What’s your take on animals being able to predict natural occurrences?

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