Spring Weather Report

robin

The robins are back in Paradelle. Cardinals, bluejays and chickadees are very active at the feeders. Spring is here in astronomical terms and nature signs.  the temperatures are still cool most days and nights still deep into the mid/high 30s – but no frost. Not that we can’t have a late frost or even snow in April, but it feels like spring.

The only un-spring-like thing is that the coronavirus pandemic has changed our habits, holidays and outlook. I’m glad I can still work in my garden and tend my vegetable seedlings and get some sunshine when it’s available.

Back in October, we were supposed to look for signals of the winter ahead. I like to do a review for my Paradelle neighborhood, and that’s really all you can do because weather is local.

Here are some autumn 2019 signs I observed and their results.

“Much rain in October, means much wind in December.” That one held true.

“Thunder in the fall is supposed to foretell a cold winter ahead.”  No thunder here in the fall and no cold winter.

“A warm October means a cold February.” A warm October but not a particularly cold February. Very gray, cloudy month though.

“A Full Moon in October without any frost means a warmer month ahead.” No frost on that Full Moon night and November was, if not warm, mild.

Very few blooms in my garden late up until the Winter Solstice, which should have been a sure sign of a rough winter – but it wasn’t rough.

acorns
The remnants on my lawn of a bumper crop of acorns eaten by the squirrels.

The squirrels were very active in the fall – and very active during the mild winter and still this first full spring month. Acorns and squirrels have long been part of weather lore. A bumper crop of acorns and squirrels that are more active than usual is supposed to mean a severe winter.  We had both here in Paradelle but the winter was mild and almost snowless – much to the dismay of my neighbor whose landscaping company does snow removal in winter.  The weather lore rhyme “Squirrels gathering nuts in a flurry, will cause snow to gather in a hurry” was definitely not true here.

Candelora and Winter Weather

Per la Santa Candelora se nevica o se plora, dell’inverno siamo fora, ma se è sole o solicello, siamo sempre a mezzo inverno
(“For the Holy Candelora, if it snows or if it rains, we are through with winter, but if there is sunshine or even just a little sun, we are still in the middle of winter”)

candles

Candelora is a Roman Catholic religious festival celebrated in Italy on February 2. This year the day is also the American Groundhog Day, Super Bowl of football – and another day of the impeachment proceedings for President Trump. The Presentazione del Signore (Presentation of Our Lord) had been called the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary.

It is more popularly called the feast of Candelora and in English-speaking countries, it is known as Candlemas Day (Candle Mass).

On Candlelora, all the candles to be used in the church throughout the year are consecrated as the symbolic “light of the world.”

At one time, the custom that a Jewish woman, including Jesus’ mother, would be considered impure for the 40 days after the delivery of a male child and were not allowed to worship in the temple. After the 40 days, these women were brought to the temple to be purified.

February 2 is 40 days after December 25, the day the Church marks the birth of Jesus. This traditional Christian festival also marks the presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple, a holiday was observed by Christians in Jerusalem as early as the fourth century AD. By the middle of the fifth century, the celebration included lighting candles to symbolize Jesus Christ as the light, and the ritual of blessing of the candles became common practice around the eleventh century.

The “coincidence” of our Groundhog Day being on the same day is one of the weather.  As the proverb of weather lore stated on the top of this post shows, noting the weather on February 2 is supposed to predict the weather for the remaining six weeks of winter.

Is it another coincidence that February 2 is also a cross-quarter day, halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox? No coincidences.  Some people of the Northern Hemisphere have believed for millennia that if the sun comes out at the mid-way point between winter and spring, winter weather would continue for another six weeks. I have always thought that it seems more logical that NO sun on this day would suggest that winter would continue, but that’s not the tradition.

Since the sixteenth century, North American folklore has followed some old European traditions that if on February 2 a groundhog/woodchuck comes out of its hole after winter hibernation and fails to see its shadow because the weather is cloudy, winter will soon end. If on the other hand, it is sunny and the groundhog sees its shadow, it will retreat into its burrow, and winter will continue for six more weeks.

The weakest part of our modern American celebration is that those poor groundhogs do not “emerge” naturally from their burrows because of some internal clock, environmental conditions or planetary magic. They are forced into the public.

There are some scientific bases for using signs in nature to predict the change of seasons and weather. Our Groundhog Day and Candlelora has no scientific basis.

My friend, Patricia, lives in Florence and might be celebrating Candelora (‘Candelaia’ in Tuscan dialect) there this weekend. It is a tradition in Tuscany that goes back to the Middle Ages.  Florentine churches still distribute holy candles to parishioners on this day.

 

A Hot Toddy on a Winter Night

winter currier ives

It’s a snowy time now in Paradelle and I like having a hot toddy in winter. This goes back to the one that my beloved Aunt Millie made for me when I was too young to drink liquor.

It was a very snowy Christmas Eve and we walked in the snow to Midnight Mass. The night had that quietness that piling snow brings. No one was out in cars so we walked the middle of the streets. It was as close to the idealized Christmas Eves in some Currier and Ives illustrations.

When we returned home, I was feeling like I might be getting a cold. A hot toddy, despite my youth, was my Aunt’s preventative medicine.

Her recipe was to start with a prepared hot tea (herbal, black, green – your choice, but nothing overpowering like mint). You don’t want to add the liquor with a teabag in there because it will soak up some of the alcohol’s power. Add a jigger of brandy, whiskey or dark rum. Aunt Millie was partial to blackberry brandy in black tea. Add a tablespoon of honey and a splash of lemon juice. Those two will help clear any sore throat. If you used a lemon wedge (back then we just used the lemon that came in a squeezable plastic lemon). the wedge can be a garnish. A cinnamon stick or star anise can also be a garnish if you’re getting fancy.

I lift a clear glass hot toddy mug (Millie’s favorite so that you could see the glowing color) tonight to Aunt Millie, winter, and new starts of all kinds.

hot toddy

This Longest Night of the Year

LHS sunstones.jpg The winter solstice viewed at the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, California, USA.By Tim Ereneta from Berkeley, CA – solstice gathering, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

Winter solstice is an astronomical phenomenon that marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year. This is the December solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and the June solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. This year the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere will be at 11:19 PM ET today, Saturday, December 21.

The winter solstice is also known as the hiemal solstice or hibernal solstice,  Midwinter, Yule, the Longest Night and Jólo.

We get a solstice when one of the Earth’s poles has its maximum tilt away from the Sun. That happens twice yearly. For me, this is the shortest period of daylight and longest night of the year, but if I was at the North Pole, there is continuous darkness or twilight around the winter solstice. (It’s the opposite for the summer solstice.)

Why would anyone think of the solstice as “Midwinter” when it seems to be the start of winter? If you want to optimistic, after the winter solstice the days get longer and the nights shorter. But I have to admit that in Paradelle I think of mid-January as midwinter.

The December solstice is usually the 21st or 22nd of December. As with Full Moons, a solstice really lasts only a moment, but we popularly refer to the entire day as the Winter Solstice.

In prehistory, the solstices were observed carefully and were much more significant cultural events. There were festivals and rituals and superstitions and beliefs around this occurrence. It was seen by some as the symbolic death and rebirth of the Sun.

The late Neolithic and Bronze Age sites at Stonehenge in England and Newgrange in Ireland are still the site of ceremonies. The primary axes of both of these monuments seem to have been carefully aligned on a sight-line pointing to the winter solstice sunrise (Newgrange) and the winter solstice sunset (Stonehenge).

The pagan Scandinavian and Germanic people of northern Europe celebrated a twelve-day “midwinter” holiday called Yule ( Jul, Julblot, jólablót, midvinterblot, julofferfest). This holiday gave us many of the modern Christmas traditions, such as the Christmas tree, the Christmas wreath, the Yule log.  Scandinavians still call Christmas “Jul” and in English “Yule” is often connected to the “yuletide” season which has been in usage since 900.

In “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost, the setting of the poem is a woods on the Winter Solstice.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

Like the driver in those woods, it is good to stop a moment today and consider the solstice and nature’s beauty around us – but then, though “The woods are lovely, dark and deep,” we all have our
promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

 

October Weather Signals of the Winter Ahead

frosty pumpkins
Frost on the pumpkins might mean that the October Full Moon is also a frosty night.

My post about signs in nature of how intense the winter ahead will be always moves back up the stats list around the time of the autumnal equinox.

My friend, Maria, told me that her Italian mother believed that if there is a bumper crop of acorns in the fall, it means that we will have a bad winter. That’s one of many weather proverbs or nuggets of weather lore. My mother told me as a child that if leaves hang on in the autumn and are slow to fall, we should prepare for a cold winter. The little scientist in me as a child wondered if it wasn’t just because the fall was gentle and we didn’t have the wind or rain to shake the leaves loose from branches. But then I suppose you could say that a gentle autumn means a tougher winter.

Several bits of weather lore look to October weather to predict the winter to come:  https://wp.me/piq5C-3Th

  • Much rain in October, means much wind in December.
  • Thunder in the fall is supposed to foretell a cold winter ahead.
  • A warm October means a cold February.
  • A Full Moon in October without any frost means a warmer month ahead.
  • In late autumn and up until the Winter Solstice, flowers still blooming is a pleasant surprise but is supposed to be a sure sign of a rough winter to follow.

The general rules seem to be that a gentle preceding season means a colder one to follow. For example, I have read weather lore that says that a mild winter means a cold spring to come.

Do keep in mind that with all this weather lore, your local observations might be an indication of the local weather ahead and not about the country or the world. I am not a believer in the “official” winter forecasts you often see in the media about the winter ahead. Though they may be “scientific” they are so broad that the microclimates we all live in often are quite different.

Spring Will Come

There is snow on the ground in Paradelle and the Polar Vortex visited us this past week. The ground is rock-hard. Nothing is budding. But I saw my first robin today.

robin

There are a lot of things that are supposed to indicate that the spring season is near. That silly groundhog in Pennsylvania who was pulled out of his home, saw no shadow (Duh, it was cloudy) and so it is supposed to be an early spring. NOAA says Phil the Groundhog has a 40% accuracy rate over 133 years – about as good as a coin toss.

It is a sure sign of spring when I once again watch the film Groundhog Day, and whatever the weather might be, I get into the Zen of that film.

Animals pay no attention to calendars, but those that hibernate or spend more time  inside than outside (like most of us) during winter do sense a warming climate. There are also internal clocks that will signal that it is time for them to emerge.

It made a kind of sense to people at one time that if they observed an animal (bears in France, badgers in Germany, groundhogs in America) emerging but then heading back inside, it must “know” something about the weather ahead.

You can also be a sky watcher like the ancients, who paid more careful attention to things up there. The movements of the Sun and Moon were very important and today is a “cross-quarter” day in the solar calendar. Today falls exactly between a solstice and an equinox.

Though it might not feel like it, consider that winter is halfway over and spring is on the celestial horizon – whether it looks and feels like it outside. I have definitely noticed that there was a longer day(light) the past week.

Many nature and garden folks look to the plants in their neighborhood for signs of spring. But I can’t say that I have found them to be much more accurate than groundhogs. I saw some bulbs poking above ground back in December, but they stopped their progress. I have a patch of crocuses that get full sun all day in front of my home that always bloom a week or more before the others.


Take the snowdrops I have outside. When they bloom, it might be snowy and they add some white (and green) to the landscape. But Galanthus nivalis will bloom when they are ready no matter what the weather happens to be. They are early bloomers.  Mine are not poking out, but we have a warming week ahead, so they might break through.

Cultures and religions all have some type of seasonal celebrations. The Celtic holiday of Imbolc is an ancient one that honored Brigid (or Brigit), goddess of fire, poetry, healing, and childbirth. February first is Saint Brigid’s feast day.

The ancient Imbolc (from the Old Irish imbolg, meaning “in the belly”) is thought to have come from his time being when ewes became pregnant. Those would be the spring lambs. As February started, Saint Brigid was thought to bring the healing power of the sun back to the world.

Christians took the pagan holiday and repurposed February 2 as Candlemas Day (Candelora in Italy).  Though it is to mark the presentation of Jesus at the temple 40 days after her birth, the ceremony is to bring candles (and Brigid’s crosses) to church to be blessed.  So it offers the elements of fire and a birth.

 

May Brigid bless the house wherein you dwell
Bless every fireside every wall and door
Bless every heart that beats beneath its roof
Bless every hand that toils to bring it joy
Bless every foot that walks its portals through
May Brigid bless the house that shelters you.

 

What made that robin return to this cold northern place now? Birds that nest in the Northern Hemisphere tend to migrate northward in the spring to take advantage of emerging insect populations, budding plants and an abundance of nesting locations.

Though the vast majority of robins do move south in the winter, some remain and move around in northern locations. Robins migrate more in response to food than to temperature and fruit is the robin’s winter food source. I haven’t seen any robins in my area since autumn, so I assume they went south.

American Robins eat large numbers of both invertebrates and fruit. In spring and summer, they prefer earthworms, insects and some snails. they also eat a wide variety of fruits, including chokecherries, hawthorn, dogwood, sumac fruits and juniper berries. One study suggested that robins may try to round out their diet by selectively eating fruits that have bugs in them.