Nature has its own way of predicting the weather

Published 6:01 am Sunday, November 29, 2015

It seems as if winter just appeared out of nowhere after we experienced our first snowfall this past week.

The first blanket of snow of the season always seems to bring out the kid in me. For some reason, I get that cozy feeling that I used to get as a kid whenever the first snowfall of the season arrived.

As a kid, I didn’t really worry about having to shovel or if the car had enough anti-freeze because my dad took care of all of that.

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As I grew a little older, I would help him shovel the walk and driveway, which at that time I viewed as fun. Little did I realize that the reality of winter as an adult is not all fun and games but can actually be considered work.

I still remember the times that my dad would put the tire chains on when a snowstorm was imminent. Unlike today, we didn’t have a lot of advance storm warnings, and the forecasts weren’t as perfect as they are today. Right! I sometimes think the old Farmer’s Almanac does a better job of weather forecasting than all of today’s sophisticated technology.

There used to be a lot of old wives tales or signs of nature that people went by when anticipating the upcoming winter months. A few of the old-time weather sayings were “The higher the clouds, the finer the weather,” “Clear moon, frost soon,” “Rainbow in the morning gives you fair warning,” “Ring around the moon? Rain real soon,” “Rain foretold, long last, short notice, soon will pass,” “Red sky at night, sailors delight,” “Red sky in morning, sailors take warning,” “If it rains before 7, it will clear before 11,” “If three nights dewless there be, ’twill rain, you’re sure to see” and “With dew before midnight, the next day sure will be bright.”

According to folklore, the black-and-brown caterpillars of the tiger moth species can predict just how cold and snowy it’s going to be for the upcoming winter when spotted during the fall season.

The caterpillars have black bands at each end of their bodies with a reddish-brown section in the center.

Folk wisdom has it that when the brown band is narrow, winter weather will be harsh. How accurate is this? Surveys have found that woolly worms’ weather predictions have been accurate 80 percent of the time since the 1950s. I have to wonder if that caterpillar doesn’t have a better percentage than all of today’s modern technology.

When bees and butterflies have disappeared from the flower beds, you can expect some heavy weather coming your way. The folklore goes that if they’re not in their usual spots, something is up. “When sheep gather in a huddle, tomorrow will have a puddle.”

It’s believed you can expect a storm if these animals crowd together and shield each other. Indians taught early settlers to watch the size of the muskrat and beaver huts. Big huts meant a bad winter. Likewise, oversized nests made by rabbits, hornets and birds were a sign of a long, tough winter, according to Native Americans.

These are all interesting theories that have been passed down by our ancestors, and in all reality some of them are amazingly accurate. I have always been fascinated by watching critters in their natural habitat and of trying to understand what they do and why they do it in different kinds of weather.

Whenever I spend time at the family cabin, I enjoy watching the birds and their actions.

While spending time at the cabin this October, I observed an unusually high number of those caterpillars mentioned earlier in the column. At the time, I didn’t realize the significance of that stripe, or I would have taken note to see how close it came to predicting the winter.

This is just one of the many wonders that nature has to offer us.

I really do believe we can learn a lot by watching wildlife and how the weather affects their actions. I have always felt that the barometer has an impact on fishing. In fact, I have on many occasions caught more fish just before a rain as the barometer peaks and starts its downward slide.

At times I have also noticed that just before a rainstorm, the birds, squirrels and chipmunks that frequent the feeders at our cabin seem to become silent and almost disappear as if seeking shelter.

To me, this is a sign that the weather is about to turn. There is also that certain smell almost like compost or damp stale foliage that seems to be in the air just before a rain.

These are all interesting signs of weather, some folklore, some just cute sayings and others just too true to be ignored. Whatever the case may be, nature surely holds plenty of interesting and exciting things for us to observe.

Until next time, I hope everyone had a safe and Happy Thanksgiving and can find time to enjoy outdoors.

Please remember to keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers because they are the reason we are able to enjoy all the freedoms that we have today.

Dick Herfindahl’s column appears in the Tribune each Sunday.