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We don’t even have to pass through the equinox’s tilt into autumn before people start searching and finding a post I wrote here about signs in nature that might predict the winter to come. We want to know about things before they happen.

But weather is really difficult to predict too far in advance. All of us have watched or read a weather report at night for what tomorrow will be, and then found the actual day to be quite different. Maybe that is why some people seem to trust old weather lore that looks at nature for predictions.

People have been observing changes with insects, animals, birds, plants, the Moon and the stars and trying to connect that to the weather world around them. The problem with most predictions about weather, politics, the end of the world or anything is that we rarely go back months or years later to check on the predictions.

You can look back at the older posts and follow the instructions and do your own predicting. Just be sure to write it down and then check back when spring arrives. Did the predictions come true?

Did the black bands on a woolly bear caterpillar prove to be accurate?

What about those squirrels – gathering food early, bushy tails?

I did not notice any ant hills that were particularly high in July. So, winter should not be snowy. And yet, the first week in August was unusually warm, and that should mean that the coming winter will be snowy and long. Should we believe the ants?

The leaves have barely started to fall here. When leaves fall early, fall and Winter will be mild, but if they fall late,winter will be severe. Start falling leaves!

You can at least pay attention to what is happening in October:
– Much rain in October, much wind in December.
– A warm October means a cold February.
– Full Moon in October without frost, then no frost until November’s Full Moon.

And check the skins of corn (husks), apples and onions. The thicker they are, the tougher the winter. Do you notice a pattern here? When things in nature toughen up, they are getting ready for a tough winter.

Pay attention.

There is no such season as “Indian Summer” but if you live in the U.S. you have probably heard the expression used around this time of the year.  The U.S. National Weather Service defines this as weather conditions that are sunny and clear with above normal temperatures, occurring late-September to mid-November.

Indian summer has become the way to describe a period of unseasonably warm, dry weather in autumn that feels like summer. It is especially used when we have a warm period after a killing frost when we assumed autumn was giving us a taste of winter.

But why call it Indian summer?

In the late 1800s, an American lexicographer named Albert Matthews tried to find out who coined the expression. The earliest reference he found in print was a letter from 1778, but from the context it was clear that the expression was already in widespread use.

It is supposed that the origin came from areas inhabited by Native Americans (“Indians”) and that Indians first described this weather oddity to Europeans as something that occurred most years.

The expression has traveled beyond American borders. In British English, the term is used in the same way as in North America. Originally, it referred to America but it gained wider currency in Great Britain in the 1950s. In the U.K,. this period is also associated with the autumn feast days of St. Martin and Saint Luke.

You can view Indian summer as a cruel weather tease that reminds you of the summer days that are gone, or as a happy respite from the cooler “normal”  weather of that time and the days to come. I prefer the latter, though when Indian summer ends, I tend to go with the former.

Indian Summer is a romantic notion that has inspired a number of songs. Some of the better known examples:

  • In 1969, Brewer & Shipley recorded ″Indian Summer″ for their ″Weeds″ album.
  • In 1970 The Doors recorded ″Indian Summer.″
  • In 1975, Joe Dassin recorded “Indian Summer” in French, English and Spanish and  “L’Été indien” went on to become his biggest hit, selling almost 2 million copies worldwide – but the lyrics are about a summer in India, so…
  • In 1977 Poco released the album, Indian Summer, which also contained the title track.
  • In 1978 Joe Walsh recorded “Indian Summer” for the album But Seriously, Folks… 
  • U2 included “Indian Summer Sky” on their The Unforgettable Fire album.
  • The Dream Academy recorded the song “Indian Summer” for the album Remembrance Days in 1987
  • Tori Amos released “Indian Summer” on her 2004 EP, Scarlet’s Hidden Treasures.

acorns

Acorns of all sizes. Weather predictors?

Next month is when many meteorologists make their predictions about the coming winter. The 2017 Farmers’ Almanac was published last month and very cold weather for the northern U.S. Even a few periods of  unusually cold weather dipping into the deep south (Florida and the Gulf Coast) was predicted while the Western States will have a milder than normal winter.

But if you turn to nature for signs, it’s time to do your observations and make predictions within your local area.

Not all weather lore indicators is useful, depending on where you live. I can’t really take note of the early arrival of the Snowy owl, or the early departure of geese and ducks. (Geese and ducks in my area never leave!) I also can’t personally observe any early migration of the Monarch butterfly. All three of those events supposedly indicate a severe winter.

I look to all the indicators – science and popular culture. This is what meteorologists predicted last fall.  My teaser post a few weeks ago about predicting the winter to come was popular and earlier posts about signs in nature that might predict the winter are perennially popular ones found in searches.  (see links below)

As always, observations in your own part of the country should be more accurate than blanket U.S. predictions. Think about the weather you had last month, because August is said to indicate the winter to come. Every fog in August supposedly indicates a snowfall. (I observed no fogs. Does that mean no snow? I doubt it.)  If the first week in August is unusually warm, the coming winter will be snowy and long. And what about this weather rhyme: If a cold August follows a hot July, it foretells a winter hard and dry.

Take note of how animals in your region look. Squirrels with bushy tails and raccoons with thick tails and bright bands mean a rough winter. The same prediction of a rough winter is indicated by mice being very aggressive about getting into your house early. There are also claims that spiders spinning larger than usual webs and entering the house in greater numbers is a sign of severe winter weather.

In general, animals making preparations for winter early or in out-of-the-ordinary way, is a bad sign. That could be the early arrival of crickets (on the hearth?) or bees taking to the hive earlier. This is part of the same weather lore philosophy that originated the tradition of predicting spring’s arrival by groundhogs and other animal behavior.

The one I grew up hearing was woolly bear caterpillars (the larvae of Isabella tiger moths). My mother taught me that the width of the middle brown band predicts the severity of the upcoming winter. A narrow band means a bad winter and a wide band means a milder or shorter winter. Those woolly bears have 13 body segments and winter is 13 weeks long. Coincidence?  Maybe. Probably.

Insects are popular winter weather signs. If you see ants marching single file or bees building nests high in the trees, get ready for a bad winter.

Labor Day weekend, we were prepping in Paradelle for the arrival of Hurricane Hermine and the wind picked up and acorns started bombarding my backyard deck from the oak trees. The squirrels and birds were also very, very active. You can attribute that to the coming storm, but acorns and squirrels have long been part of weather lore. A bumper crop of acorns (which has been predicted in my area) and squirrels that are more active than usual, is supposed to mean a severe winter. “Squirrels gathering nuts in a flurry, will cause snow to gather in a hurry.”

Is there a weather lore predictor that you have heard? Leave a comment.


More About Predicting Winter Weather

Thoughts of Winter in Summer

What does summer tell us about winter?

Checking in on winter with the weather gods

snowstorm-wikipedia

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.”

Cicada_skin

cicada cast-off skin

Sitting outside this afternoon, I tried guessing at the temperature by listening to some crickets. I do know that crickets chirp faster as temperatures rise, and slower when temperatures fall. I’m sure my parent’s were unaware of Dolbear’s Law when they told me about crickets and temperature (Temperature = 50+[(N-40)/4] where N = the number of chirps per minute), and math is not one of my strengths, but I could tell it was getting hotter.

If you can’t distinguish a cricket “song” from a cicada or a katydid, listen to a field cricket sound.

As an amateur phenologist (one who studies the seasonal changes in plants and animals), I’m interested in these sounds. Not that I could ignore the cicadas who are very noisily chirping around my house this month.

The cicadas are pretty creepy looking and their cast-off skins that they leave attached around the backyard are also creepy. Katydids are much nicer looking in their bright green. It is difficult to find them, but easy to hear their eponymous “Katy did! Katy did!” call from he trees. Can you hear females answering “Katy didn’t, didn’t, didn’t?”    Take a listen to them

katydid

They hide with their veined oval-shaped wings that look like leaves in the treetops. They start singing in August, but, if you can identify when they start their summer song, weather lore says that autumn will arrive 90 days later. I’m not sure I caught the first katydid, but today was the first day I noticed them calling. That makes autumn in Paradelle arriving November 16.

The katydids are singing for love, lust and a mate. It is mating season (August through mid-October). Feel the love?

crocus

The crocuses bloomed three weeks earlier this year in Paradelle.

Things are blooming in Paradelle, so I have started recording them in my garden notebook. Have you noticed any changes in when things sprout or bloom in your neighborhood? Maybe flowers tend to bloom a little earlier in the year or birds that used to migrate are hanging around your yard through the winter?

In some ways my garden notebook is a nature notebook as I find myself also recording first and last frosts, snow storms, the appearances of birds, insects and wildlife. Some of those things I report here, both seriously and also as a kind of weather lore. My posts about predicting the weather based on signs in nature seem to get a lot of hits, so I am not alone in my interest, scientific or not.

Most people have never heard of phenology. but if you have ever paid attention to the timing of natural events, like blooming flowers and migrating animals, you have been practicing this -ology. Phenology is the study of the timing of recurring plant and animal life cycle events.

If you want to make those observation to be more “official,” you can become a citizen scientist by connecting with groups like Nature’s Notebook. It  is an online project sponsored by the USA National Phenology Network. Americans can practice phenology in their own habitat and share their observations with other members and have their data shared with scientists who will use the data for research and decision-making.

It saddens me how disconnected people are to the natural world of plants, animals, the earth and sky. s a lifelong teacher, it really saddens me to see how disconnected kids become as they get older. The interest is always there in very young children, so it is something that is lost.

We may not all be as observant as Sara Schaffer of Nature’s Notebook who suggests that we notice the “slightest blush on a maple leaf that foreshadows the coming fall” or the “new, more vibrant feathers warblers put on days before mating.”

robin-pixabayDo you see the appearance of the first robin on your lawn as a sign that spring has arrived? I grew up hearing and believing that. But I have observed and recorded robins every winter. Once I saw four of them sitting on my fence in a February snowstorm. Robins as indicators of spring is a good example of weather lore.

Most robins do migrate south, but some are probably still around your neighborhood all winter – no doubt better protected in the woods than on your bare lawn. The robins that do migrate to the South in the fall, return in the spring, so then we see many more of them on that soggy lawn and field in search of food.

Geese flying south in Paradelle is a daily occurrence. They fly from the reservoir south to a pond. They never migrate and leave any more. What does that indicate? Perhaps some of it is climate change, but it is also the prime water and grass we provide them in parks, golf courses, school fields and corporate settings. Why leave?

Though thinking a captive groundhog can predict the end of winter is certainly weather lore, paying attention to events like true bird migrations can help us understand long-term trends and predict future events. That is why many observers may be reporting small changes that can help more accurately predict the long-term impacts of climate change and shorter-term events in the near future.

And observing when the smell of smoke from fireplaces changes to the smell of barbecue smoke is a definite indicator of suburban seasonal change!

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