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Gopher Gulch: Weather lore — What will the winter hold?

“Listen! The wind is rising and the air is full of leaves. We have had our summer evenings, now for November eves,” wrote Humbert Wolfe. This has been an amazing Indian summer, late and lingering, after the first good storm rinsed foliage and laid down the dust.

The first week of November you can count on hearing people say with great authority that the winter will be mild or fierce, long or short, dry or wet. But upon what are they basing their predictions? The nut-gathering behavior of squirrels? The flight patterns of flies? The color of a sunset? Yup! This is the time-honored tradition of predicting upcoming weather.

Weather lore is a branch of folklore, based on careful observation of the environment and the effects of changing weather on animals and fish, cloud patterns and people. For centuries observant folks have insisted that the nut-gathering habits of squirrels can foretell the winter weather. The more nuts gathered, the more severe the winter will be.

“Squirrels gathering nuts in a flurry, causes snow to fall in a hurry,” is a phrase heard in lands where snow falls. But can squirrels really provide a clue to the upcoming winter? Meteorologists proclaim that the nut collection activities of squirrels have nothing to do with foretelling the weather. They suggest that the number of nuts squirreled away in the fall depends on how many nuts are available.

Perhaps the experts should have been gathered up and stored along with the other nuts. Even I have sense enough to know trees probably produce more nuts when it is going to be a cold winter. Nature tends to be orderly that way.

Thousands of years ago, when humans first realized we’d have to schedule our time to take care of hunting, fishing, planting and other important activities, we discovered that information about upcoming weather was essential to our survival. That’s when weather lore was born.

Every climate has its own weather lore. Folks in rural areas are more aware of the signs of upcoming weather than city people, if you don’t count the universal awareness that aching joints mean a weather change. Those who live near large bodies of water and fishermen are particularly in tune with the weather.

“Near the surface, quick to bite; catch your fish when rain’s in sight.” It’s apparently true that fishing is best just before a storm. Perhaps that’s because flying insects, the natural prey of jumping fish, are weighted down by the high humidity that precedes rain.

Often the careful observation of local phenomenon over decades and generations provides a more accurate prediction of the weather than all the meteorologists with their delicate and expensive equipment.

If you really want to know what the weather’s going to do, watch fish or fishermen. Listen to frogs, watch sunsets, smell the wind. Your predictions will probably average out better than those of the experts, and be a lot more fun.

Reach Inez Castor, a longtime Triplicate columnist, at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it


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