Sunday, February 24, 2013

Predicting the Weather

Fog goes up with a hop
Rain comes down with a drop.
                                       --from Ozark Superstitions 
                                      Vance Randolph, 1947

Predicting the weather has become the purview of meteorologists 
with access to satellites and radar,  
but in the old days, 
people predicted the weather by looking for signs in nature.

photo courtesy of

I've got a couple of signs of my own.
For example, I've noticed over the last several years
that juncos show up in large numbers at our bird feeders
on days it is going to snow.
I always wonder where they come from 
because they never come otherwise.
Last Saturday, we had nine juncos at the feeder
and by late afternoon we had a blanket of snow.

photo courtesy of

Here's my other:
Years ago, I used to commute to and from my job on the Navy base
by driving along the outer road of Norfolk International Airport.
And without fail, any time rain was coming,
the leaves on the trees along that road 
seemed to cup and rise in anticipation of the downpour.

photo courtesy of

My mom and dad once heard that winter weather could be predicted
by cutting a persimmon and looking for a particular seed formation.
If the seed kernels were spoon-shaped, one could expect lots of snow.
If the seeds were in the shape of knives and forks, a mild winter was in the offing.
If I recall, my parents obtained some persimmons from a friend and cut them open
but the results were inconclusive.
Regardless, the persimmon forecast 
is one of the more well-known folkways for weather prediction.

photo courtesy of

According to this web site:
rain can be predicted with the bubbles in a cup of hot liquid.
if the bubbles move to the side quickly, that means clear weather;
if they move over slowly, a short duration of rain, but it will clear.
But if the bubbles remain in the center, rain is coming.
Apparently this works because high pressure, 
which is what we have when weather is clear, pushes the bubbles. 
Low pressure wouldn't move the bubbles.
I just tried it, and the bubbles in my coffee moved rapidly to the sides of the cup.
So I guess the rain is going to clear out. It's a fun experiment.

Of course, weather forecasts are usually taken less lightly.
For travelers, businesses,  people who rely on the land for a living,
weather has more serious consequences, so predicting the weather
has been necessary for a very long time.

I found the 1947 book Ozark Superstitions cited above
on the website here:  Internet Archives
Randolph's book contains a dizzying number of Ozark superstitions 
about weather signs and predictions that date back to the 1800s. 

The one superstition most widely accepted by those he interviewed
is that a hog will begin to carry wood and grass in its mouth before it rains,
ostensibly to build a warm and dry nesting place to snuggle in
until the weather blows over.

photo courtesy of

Another weather indicator: chickens will go to roost before a heavy rain.
Other signs of impending rain from Ozark Superstitions:
rabbits cavorting in dusty lanes,
cats licking their fur against the grain,
dogs eating grass,
the hair on horses' tails standing up,
and one more fowl indicator of foul weather:
a rooster crowing at dusk portends a wet dawn.

photo courtesy of

I was fascinated by this next one, which seems to hold great currency
among the people Randolph interviewed:
when flint-rocks begin to weep moisture, rain is imminent.

And here's another weather sign that Randolph includes:
leaves turning up right before a rain--
Well, well. It seems my observations along the airport road 
were accurate after all.
Another in Randolph's book correlates to the coffee experiment:
Ozark hillmen say that large bubbles in puddles mean more rain is coming.
And thunder in February as happened last week in the Midwest?
Ozark Superstitions says that means frost in May.
That's one weather sign I really hope is a superstition.
Time will tell.

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