WEATHER FOLKLORE AND SAYINGS

by James White

 

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.