What's The Lorecast: A Look Into Winter Weather Folklore
Updated: Oct 18
Tall tales and folklore have been around since the beginning of humans. Some of these are stories we tell around the campfire for fun, are told to children as precautionary tales, or from generation to generation to better help us understand the world around us. The weather is no different. If you grew up in the United States, especially the Midwest or Northeast, you have undoubtedly heard of, and likely still pass on, some “weather lore”. Whether it’s a seed forecasting Winter or a rodent forecasting Spring, they are engraved in our culture. Today we will be looking into one of my favorite aspects of meteorology: taking on weather folklore. What’s true, what’s not, and what information can we accurately use in predictions will be analyzed in a new series called “What’s The Lorecast?”
The Persimmon Seed
Each year, the Winter forecast is one of the most anticipated outlooks, especially for those that live in the cooler and colder climates of the United States- and rightfully so! Winter storms bring heavy snow, ice, and wind that can cause chaos across the country. Similarly, strong upper-level troughs bring bitter cold air that chills to the bone! While there are many things in nature people use to predict the upcoming cold season, one of the most popular is the Persimmon Seed.
As the tale goes, if you cut a persimmon seed in half it will reveal a fork, spoon, or knife and this will determine how your winter will go. If the persimmon reveals a spoon, there will be lots of snow. A knife means it will be very cold, and a fork is indicative of a mild winter.
While the origins of the persimmon seed forecast are unknown, the tale itself is a classic. However, there is no doubt that before the era of satellites, weather radar, and computer forecast models this little trick was one way for people to try to predict the upcoming winter season. There is no data to prove or disprove that the persimmon seed forecast is reliable. Sometimes, a single tree will generate persimmons with an assortment of forks, knives, and spoons in their seeds.
The Color of Woolly Worms
Arguably, the most famous early predictor of winter in weather lore is the Woolly Worm, also known as the Woolly Bear Caterpillar. These caterpillars are the larval stage of the Isabella moth. Generally, these caterpillars are black with red/orange coloration in the middle. Supposedly, the blacker you see on the Woolly Worm, the harsher the winter will be, and should you find any that are all white, it will be very snowy.
Overall, the credibility of this forecast is low, but perhaps not totally without merit. According to research, the difference in coloration can be caused by the age of the caterpillar and the wetness of the Fall weather. Younger caterpillars and a wetter Fall season often lead to more black coloring. While weather patterns are ever changing, if the wetter Fall pattern sticks around into winter, it could theoretically lead to more precipitation and greater snowfall chances.
“See how high the hornet’s nest, ‘twill tell how high the snow will rest”
This one is self-explanatory, if the wasps and hornets build their nest high, more snow is expected. The closer to the ground those nests are built, the lower the amount of snow is expected. However, there is no statistical data to support that bees, hornets, or wasps build their nest higher one year than the next because of Winter weather.
The ultimate decider of this is the Queen, and after each Winter, she picks out a place that she finds suitable for the hive or nest to be built- all without a meteorology education.
“Keep cold, young orchard. Good-by and keep cold. Dread fifty above more than fifty below." Robert Frosts poem ‘Good-bye and Keep Cold”
Fruit trees need to go through a dormant period each Winter to better produce fruit for the next year. This is known as the chilling period. For many trees, this occurs at 45°F with additional effects at 32° F. However, a brief period of warm weather in the winter (70°+) can have a negative impact, offsetting recent chilling that occurred. This is why Robert Frost warns the orchard to dread 50° F above zero more than 50° F below!
The full poem can be found here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44265/good-bye-and-keep-cold
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