The wooly bear caterpillars have been out en masse this fall, leading many to suppose that harsh winter is approaching. The lore surrounding this larval predecessor to the Isabella Tiger Moth has to do with the relative size of the caterpillars brown stripe. Although the tale is dubious and with little scientific evidence, the chatter about the inevitable winter to come never seems to fade, even in the midst of the information age.
Folklore is not always fact, but there is something comforting in the belief that nature tips her hand to reveal what she has in store. If the scientific method always triumphed over folk wisdom, Punxatawney Phil would have been retired long ago, and wooly bear worms would scarcely merit a second thought.
Some of these old proverbs make empirical sense, and the fact that they rhyme makes them more fun than any explanation that could be found in a science textbook. For example:
“When windows won’t open, and the salt clogs the shaker, the weather will favor the umbrella maker”
Moisture in the air can swell wood, and it certainly makes salt clump together. It also is a good indicator of rain on the way.
“Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight, red sky in the morning shepherd’s warning’”
This saying is surprisingly true! It has to do with the position of the clouds in relation to the rising or setting sun. Since most weather patterns move west to east, the color of the sky can indicate that a storm may be approaching, or not.
Aside from the well-known groundhogs and wooly bear worms, many of the old weather proverbs contend that animals can sense the coming weather, and that they respond accordingly.
“See how high the hornet’s nest, ‘twill tell how high the snow will rest”
“Squirrels gathering nuts in a flurry, will cause snow to gather in a hurry”
“If bees stay at home, rain will soon come; if they fly away, fine will be the day”.
“A cow with its tail to the West makes the weather best; a cow with its tail to the East makes the weather least”
And whether (weather?) you believe in these old sayings, or think they are just amusing bits of anecdotal folklore, it has to be acknowledged that they are fun.
“Whether its cold or whether its hot; we shall have weather, whether or not!”
About the Author
Andrew joined the 21st Century Parks team in 2012 as the Natural Areas Team Leader, responsible for the restoration and maintenance of the woodlands, meadows and trail system within the park and worked on The Parklands project until February 2015. Previously Andrew worked for Louisville Olmsted Parks Conservancy, NativeScapes, Inc., and the National Park Service, at both Rocky Mountain National Park and Point Reyes National Seashore. He graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in Geography.