Before The Weather Channel and meteorologists were available to help us get a handle on the weather, people relied on nature to throw out some hints. Counting the number of fogs in August and how bushy a squirrel’s tail is are just a couple of methods that folks have used and still use to help predict the weather. In today’s blog, I have gone into a bit more detail on three weather-predicting folklores that are common here in the Ozarks.
One of the most widely known predictors is the persimmon-seed method. The fruit of the persimmon tree should be collected when ripe, about mid- to late October. The seeds can be cut in half (careful, as they can be slippery!) to reveal a fork, spoon, or knife shape at the heart of the seed. These “utensils” are actually tiny seedlings still in the embryonic phase. A fork, resembling a potato fork, predicts above-normal temperatures for the winter, so a longer harvest in the garden. A spoon predicts above-normal snowfall levels, hence the snow-shovel comparison. A knife predicts below-normal temperatures that “cut through you like a knife.” (FYI: I have collected seeds for the past five years and they have been mostly spoons.)
Another common predictor is the Wooly Bear Caterpillar. You can often see these guys hurrying across roads to find a safe place to hibernate for the winter. The Wooly Bear has 13 segments in its body that are said to represent the 13 weeks of winter. The shade of brown for each segment predicts the weather for that week. The lighter the shade of brown, the warmer the weather will be. The darker the shade, the colder it will be for that week. So, if the caterpillar is predominately light brown, the warmer our winter will be. In reality, the colors tell us how old the caterpillar is; the longer the dark brown coloration is on the ends, the older the caterpillar is.
Animal behavior is also used to predict a front moving in. As cattle bed down together in the winter, start getting prepared for a cold front. Also, watch for squirrels working harder than normal in winter, as a cold front may be moving in soon after.