Weather folklore is often dismissed as nothing more than a grab bag of sayings, old wives’ tales, legends, and superstitions. In other words, folklore is considered the opposite of science. But folklore and science have more in common than you might imagine. What we call scientific method is based on observation and evidence - and so is a great deal of weather folklore.
Some fall/winter sayings include:
When leaves fall early, autumn and winter will be mild; when leave fall later, winter will be severe.
Flowers blooming in late autumn are a sign of a bad winter.
A warm November is the sign of a bad winter.
Thunder in the fall foretells a cold winter.
Other folklore explained:
CRICKETS CHIRP FASTER WHEN IT’S WARM AND SLOWER WHEN IT’S COLD.
Crickets can indeed serve as thermometers. Tradition says that if you count the cricket’s chirps for 14 seconds and then add 40, you will obtain the temperature in Fahrenheit at the cricket’s location.
MARCH COMES IN LIKE A LION AND GOES OUT LIKE A LAMB.
This well known saying is derived from the observation that March begins in winter and ends in spring. In northern latitudes temperatures are generally higher by the end of the month than during its first weeks. We may also look to the heavens to determine an explanation, the constellation of Leo, the lion, dominates the skies at the beginning of the month and the constellation Aries, the ram or lamb, prevails as the month winds down.
NO WEATHER IS ILL, IF THE WIND IS STILL
Calm conditions, especially with clear skies, indicate the dominance of a high-pressure system. When they are absent or weak, precipitation and cloud formation are much less likely. But let’s not forget the saying “the calm before the storm”. Thunderstorms frequently develop in environments where winds are low. Calm conditions can also occur on very cold days with clear skies. People shivering with the cold, might not think that a still wind bodes no ill.
WHEN WINDOWS WON’T OPEN, AND THE SALT CLOGS THE SHAKER, THE WEATHER WILL FAVOR THE UMBRELLA MAKER!
Windows with wood frames tend to stick when the air is full of moisture. The moisture swells the wood, making windows and doors more difficult to budge. By the same token, salt is very effective at absorbing moisture, so it clumps together rather than pouring out. As moisture collects in the air, there is a greater likelihood of precipitation.
WHEN A HALO RINGS THE MOON OR SUN, RAIN’S APPROACHING ON THE RUN.
A halo appears around the moon or the sun when ice crystals at high altitudes refract the moonlight (or sunlight). That is a good indication that moisture is descending to lower altitudes, where it is likely to take the form of precipitation. A halo is a more reliable indicator of storms in warmer months than during winter months.
SHARP HORNS ON THE MOON THREATEN BAD WEATHER.
The moon in this instance is supposed to predict precipitation because it is perceived as being in the shape of a bowl, which means that it is filling with water or snow. If it’s “horns” are tipped to the side, some people believe that precipitation will descend.
WHEN THE SUN DRAWS WATER, STORMS WILL FOLLOW.
The sun does not draw water. This saying describes an optical illusion in which the sun’s rays alternate with bands of shadow to produce a fanlike effect. Those shadowy patches are dense clouds, some of which are thin enough to allow sunlight to reach earth. However, the saying is not without merit. If the sun is obscured in the west, it means that moisture-laden clouds have gathered there, and it’s quite possible that rain will follow if the temperature is favorable for the condensation of that moisture.
LIGHTNING NEVER STRIKES THE SAME PLACE TWICE.
This is one of the most famous weather sayings – and it’s wrong. Lightning not only can strike the same place twice, but it seems to prefer high locations. New York City’s Empire State Building, for example, is struck about 25 times every year.
TORNADOES DON’T HAPPEN IN THE MOUNTAINS.
Tornadoes do occur in the mountains. Damage from a tornado has been reported above 10,000 feet. Tornadoes have barreled across mountain chains including the Appalachians, the Rockies, and the Sierra Nevada. In 1987, an especially violent tornado crossed the Continental Divide in Yellowstone National Park.
Weather Proverbs and Prognostics: Animals
Observe animals and you'll see that they, too, have their own ways of predicting weather. Here are some animal weather proverbs and prognostics:
Expect rain when dogs eat grass, cats purr and wash, sheep turn into the wind, oxen sniff the air, and swine are restless.
If the bull leads the cows to pasture, expect rain; if the cows precede the bull, the weather will be uncertain.
When cats sneeze, it is a sign of rain.
When cattle lie down in the pasture, it indicates early rain.
Bats flying late in the evening indicates fair weather.
If the groundhog sees its shadow on Candlemas Day (February 2), six more weeks of winter remain.
When horses and cattle stretch out their necks and sniff the air, it will rain.
If the mole digs its hole 2½ feet deep, expect severe weather; if two feet deep, not so severe; if one foot deep, a mild winter.
When pigs gather leaves and straw in all, expect a cold winter.
When rabbits are fat in October and November, expect a long, cold winter.
If sheep ascend hills and scatter, expect clear weather.
Wolves always howl more before a storm.
Weather Proverbs and Prognostics: Birds
Whether you're wondering when to expect rain, or if a cold winter or dry summer is ahead of you, birds have a way of helping us find out! Here is a collection of some of our favorite bird weather proverbs and prognostics.
Birds singing in the rain indicates fair weather approaching.
If birds in the autumn grow tame, the winter will be too cold for game.
Partridges drumming in the fall means a mild and open winter.
Chickens cackle and owls howl just before rain.
If crows fly in pairs, expect fine weather; a crow flying alone is a sign of foul weather.
When fowls roost in daytime, expect rain.
The whiteness of a goose's breastbone indicates the kind of winter: A red of dark-spotted bone means a cold and stormy winter; few or light-colored spots mean a mild winter.
When domestic geese walk east and fly west, expect cold weather.
Hawks flying high means a clear sky. When they fly low, prepare for a blow.
Petrels gathering under the stern of a ship indicates bad weather.
When the rooster goes crowing to bed, he will rise with watery head.
When seagulls fly inland, expect a storm.
When the swallow's nest is high, the summer is very dry. When the swallow buildeth low, you can safely reap and sow.
Weather Proverbs and Prognostics: Insects and Reptiles
Next time you see an ant or a spider, check out what it's doing—it could let you know something about the upcoming weather. Check out our weather proverbs and prognostics about insects and reptiles.
If ants their walls do frequent build, rain will from the clouds be spilled.
Ants are busy, gnats bite, crickets sing louder than usual, spiders come down from their webs, and flies gather in houses just before rain.
When bees to distance wing their flight, days are warm and skies are bright; But when their flight ends near their come, stormy weather is sure to come.
Fireflies in great numbers indicates fair weather.
When hornets build their nests near the ground, expect a cold and early winter.
When cicadas are heard, dry weather will follow, and frost will come in six weeks.
When spiders' webs in air do fly, the spell will soon be very dry.
Spiders in motion indicate rain.
When spiderwebs are wet with dew that soon dries, expect a fine day.
Spiderwebs floating at autumn sunset bring a night frost, this you may bet.
The louder the frogs, the more the rain.
Frogs singing in the evening indicates fair weather the next day.
Leeches kept in glass jars are active just before rain.
Hang up a snakeskin and it will bring rain.
Farming by the Moon
When to Plant, Wean, Castrate, Build Fences, Harvest
by Martha White
Source: The 1994 Old Farmer's Almanac
The age-old practice of performing farm chores by the Moon stems from the simple belief that the Moon governs moisture.
Pliny the Elder, the first-century Roman naturalist, stated in his Natural History that the Moon "replenishes the earth; when she approaches it, she fills all bodies, while, when she recedes, she empties them."
The Moon's Phases
The Moon's phases guided many a farmer and gardener in the past, and still do today:
Moonrise occurring in the evening brings fair weather, says one proverb, harking back to the belief that the waning Moon (full and last quarter, which rise in the evening) is dry.
The New Moon and first quarter, or waxing phases, are considered fertile and wet.
The new and first-quarter phases, known as the light of the Moon, are considered good for planting above-ground crops, putting down sod, grafting trees, and transplanting.
From full Moon through the last quarter, or the dark of the Moon, is the best time for killing weeds, thinning, pruning, mowing, cutting timber, and planting below-ground crops.
The time just before the full Moon is considered particularly wet, and is best for planting during drought conditions.
Folklore is rich among farmers, given their close ties to Earth and her natural rhythms.
Rail fences cut during the dry, waning Moon will stay straighter.
Wooden shingles and shakes will lie flatter if cut during the dark of the Moon.
Fence posts should be set in the dark of the Moon to resist rotting. Ozark lore says that fence posts should always be set as the tree grew. To set the root end upward makes a short-lived fence.
Don't begin weaning when the Moon is waning.
Castrate and dehorn animals when the Moon is waning for less bleeding.
Slaughter when the Moon is waxing for juicier meat.
Crabbing, shrimping, and clamming are best when the Moon is full.
This full Moon appeared when wolves howled in hunger outside the villages. It is also known as the Old Moon. To some Native American tribes, this was the Snow Moon, but most applied that name to the next full Moon, in February.
Usually the heaviest snows fall in February. Hunting becomes very difficult, and hence to some Native American tribes this was the Hunger Moon.
At the time of this spring Moon, the ground begins to soften and earthworm casts reappear, inviting the return of robins. This is also known as the Sap Moon, as it marks the time when maple sap begins to flow and the annual tapping of maple trees begins.
This full Moon heralded the appearance of the moss pink, or wild ground phlox—one of the first spring flowers. It is also known as the Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and the Fish Moon.
Flowers spring forth in abundance this month. Some Algonquin tribes knew this full Moon as the Corn Planting Moon or the Milk Moon.
The Algonquin tribes knew this Moon as a time to gather ripening strawberries. It is also known as the Rose Moon and the Hot Moon.
Bucks begin to grow new antlers at this time. This full Moon was also known as the Thunder Moon, because thunderstorms are so frequent during this month.
Some Native American tribes knew that the sturgeon of the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain were most readily caught during this full Moon. Others called it the Green Corn Moon or the Grain Moon.
This full Moon corresponds with the time of harvesting corn. It is also called the Barley Moon, because it is the time to harvest and thresh the ripened barley. The Harvest Moon is the full Moon nearest the autumnal equinox, which can occur in September or October and is bright enough to allow finishing all the harvest chores.
This is the month when the leaves are falling and the game is fattened. Now is the time for hunting and laying in a store of provisions for the long winter ahead. October's Moon is also known as the Travel Moon and the Dying Moon.
For both the colonists and the Algonquin tribes, this was the time to set beaver traps before the swamps froze, to ensure a supply of warm winter furs. This full Moon was also called the Frost Moon.
This is the month when the winter cold fastens its grip and the nights become long and dark. This full Moon is also called the Long Nights Moon by some Native American tribes.
Note: The Harvest Moon is the full Moon that occurs closest to the autumnal equinox. It can occur in either September or October. At this time, crops such as corn, pumpkins, squash, and wild rice are ready for gathering.
When determining the best planting dates for seeds, the date of the last spring frost is important to your success. NOTE: Our chart calculates U.S. frost dates only, based on historical data. Other factors can also influence planting dates, including soil temperature, altitude and slope of land, nearby waters, and day length. Keep records of your garden's conditions each year to plan more accurately.
Seeds for plants with a long growing season should be started indoors during the periods shown below.
Seeds for plants sown in the ground should be planted during the periods shown.
When no dates appear in the chart, that starting method is not recommended for the particular vegetable.
Above-ground crops are planted during the light of the Moon (new to full); below-ground crops are planted during the dark of the Moon (from the day after it is full to the day before it is new again). Planting is done in the daytime; planting at night is optional!