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antler

Deer antler in velvet

When I first heard the term “velvet season,” I thought it referred to that time when members of the deer  family’s antlers are in “velvet.” I was wrong, but the seasons are related in calendar time.

Each antler grows from an attachment point on the skull called a pedicle. While an antler is growing, it is covered with highly vascular skin called velvet, which supplies oxygen and nutrients to the growing bone.

Once the antler has achieved its full size, the velvet is lost and the antler’s bone dies. This dead bone structure is the mature antler.

The velvet begins to form in spring and is shed at the end of summer and early fall depending on the geographic area.

After the velvet is gone and the antler is hard bone, the deer move into their rutting season. The rut is the mating season of ruminant animals such as deer, sheep, camels, goats, pronghorns, bison and antelopes. During the rut, bucks often rub their antlers on trees or shrubs, fight with each other, and herd estrus females together.

But the other Velvet Season is a term used for one of the most comfortable parts of the year for people who live in the subtropics, particularly in Mediterranean climate conditions. Their velvet season is a time when the weather is not as hot as mid-summer but is still quite warm, even at night. In northern latitudes with a temperate climate, the analogue of “velvet season” is “Indian summer.”

September Velvet Season on the Crimean coast

Velvet Season seems to be a term that appeared in the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries in Imperial Russia. This was a time when it was fashionable to vacation in the Crimea and “velvet season” referred to several weeks in April and May, when the court and the royal family moved from St. Petersburg to the Crimea. It wasn’t deer antlers that were being referenced, rather it was the switch for the season from fur clothes to velvet ones. The Crimea at this time was still cool. They called summer in the Crimea calico or cotton season.

So, this autumn time we are in is technically not velvet season. Set aside the royal aspect and the spring velvet season became the time to travel to the Crimean coast. It is a short season –  lasting not more than a month and usually coincides with the last week of Great Lent, Easter and St. Thomas’ Sunday.

Perhaps for those of us in the northern U.S. our comparable “season” is that short period of warm weather at the end of winter or early spring. In Paradelle, that “false spring” is often followed by a snowstorm.

It is interesting that even in Russia, at some point the velvet season switched from referring to the spring to September when the crowds left the Black Sea coast and children went back to school and the upper class could have the resorts to themselves.

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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.

dandelion

Punxsutawney Phil the groundhog predicted another 6 weeks of winter, but on that day I saw a lone dandelion already blooming at the neighborhood park.  Maybe it was being bold, or being stupid, to bloom so early. It was covered by snow the following week. But according to estimates by the National Phenology Network, spring has already arrived in much of the Southwest and Southeast. It was about 20 days early for the Southeast. They track Extended Spring Indices which are models that scientists have developed to predict the “start of spring” at a particular location.

This weekend in Paradelle, we are enjoying temperatures in the 50s and 60s after a windy week in the 20s and 30s. Such is this time of late winter and early spring.

I have written a few times about phenology which is the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life.

They use historical observations of the timing of first leaf and first bloom of certain plants (for example, cloned lilacs and honeysuckles) and daily observations from weather stations.

Many deciduous plants in temperate systems put on their leaves as temperatures warm in late winter and early spring. Using the Extended Spring Index models, scientists can look at how much the start of spring has varied from one year to the next at a particular location, and whether recent years are dramatically different from the past or not. The models can also be used to forecast when selected plants might bloom or put on leaves in future years.

I have been keeping my own bloom records for my home turf for about 20 years. Though my property is certainly its own “micro-climate” with variations due to shade, soil etc., I have seen earlier springs over the years for certain plants that are my own little “control” group.

The USA National Phenology Network developed Nature’s Notebook, a project focused on collecting standardized ground observations of phenology by researchers, students and volunteers like me.

I think their mission should be everyone’s mission, even if you don’t get as official as doing phenology: Gain a better understanding through considered observation of the plant and animals that surround you and how they relate to your environment and broader environmental change.

Spring is officially still a month away for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t already observing signs of it in your little corner of the world.

 

I’m a weather watcher. I’m also a nature watcher. Sometimes the Venn diagram overlaps those two areas.

I know by my blog stats that my posts here about predicting the weather by observing nature have a perennial popularity, even though they are not usually backed by science and are more of “weather lore.”

Meteorologists, on the other hand, look at things such as the La Niña conditions as very real. She is showing her effects in the Pacific now with cooler than normal sea surface temperatures across most of the eastern and central equatorial Pacific. It started in October and continued into this month.

I suppose it’s not exactly “chaos theory” when it comes to weather patterns, but I find it fascinating that cooler than normal sea surface temperatures far from where I live will affect my local weather. That is a big butterfly flapping its wings on the other side of the world.

Don’t confuse La Niña with its opposite partner El Niño which is officially the “El Niño-Southern Oscillation, or ENSO.  La Niña (Spanish, “the girl”) and El Niño (“the boy”) used to be seen as one thing and was once called El Viejo (“the old man”).

With all the talk about climate change, you often hear about what seem to be very small changes in the temperature of the oceans. But very small changes – a degree or two – have very big effects and La Niña and El Niño disrupt normal patterns of precipitation and atmospheric circulation not only in the Pacific but across the globe. A La Niña often, though not always, follows an El Niño.

During a period of La Niña, the sea surface temperature across the equatorial Eastern Central Pacific Ocean will be lower than normal by 3–5 °C.

It is expected that weak La Niña conditions will continue through the winter until probably February. But what does that mean for North America’s weather?

La Nina map

Cooler than normal sea surface temperatures indicative of La Niña conditions stretch across most of the eastern and central equatorial Pacific. (Source: earth.nullschool.net)

Usually, La Niña means below-average precipitation and above-average temperatures in the southern part of the United States, and colder and wetter conditions across the northern U.S. and Canada. It even affects the Atlantic Hurricane Season.

Though my East Coast has been in a drought, the Pacific Northwest had a very wet October, though that probably can’t be explained by just La Niña.

I hope the colder and wetter than normal prediction for the Paradelle area is wrong, but I’ll add it to what the wooly bears and other winter predictions showed this year and check back in the spring.

 

 

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.”

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