Day 158: Autumn and Signs of Winter Weather



With it being the first day of Autumn I thought we should start looking at those signs of the upcoming winter season. That’s done in many different ways here in the Ozarks, here are a few that were recorded by Vance Randolph:

“I have known hillfolk who more or less seriously forecast the weather for many months in advance by splitting open a persimmon seed in autumn. If the little growth at one end, between the two halves of the seed, looks like a spoon, it means that the next summer will be moist and warm, and that everybody will raise bumper crops. But if the seed carries a tiny knife and fork, instead of the spoon, the growing season will be unsatisfactory and many crops will fail.”

There’s a variation on this folklore that says if there’s a spoon in the seed we’ll all be shoveling snow all winter, if there’s a knife that means cold and biting winds, and if there’s a fork that means there will be powdery snow and it’ll be generally a mild winter.

“Butterflies seen late in the autumn are signs that cold weather will be here very soon. The same is true of big woolly caterpillars. The intricate designs made by the tiny larvae that work inside leaves are said to be significant in weather prediction, but I have been unable to learn just how to read their signs.”

I’ve also heard that the wooly caterpillars can predict the coming winter weather, but I can’t remember how they were able to do it. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, “the wider that middle brown section is (i.e., the more brown segments there are), the milder the coming winter will be. Conversely, a narrow brown band is said to predict a harsh winter.”

“The deepest snow of the winter, according to some Ozarkers, is forecast by the height to which the brush rabbits gnaw the sassafras sprouts in the fall. I have heard this mentioned in all seriousness at least fifty times, from Mena, Arkansas, to the suburbs of St. Louis. But I do not think that the genuine old-timers take much stock in it. Personally, I am not even sure that brush rabbits are accustomed to gnaw sassafras sprouts in the autumn.”

“I know deer hunters in Arkansas who think that if an autumn campfire spits and sputters more than usual, it means that a snowstorm is not far off. The firewood, they say, is ‘stompin’ snow.’ Mr. Elbert Short, of Crane, Missouri, agrees with the deer hunters. ‘If your wood fries an’ sings an’ pops an’ cracks,’ says he, ‘it’s a sure sign that snow is a-comin’.’”

“Children in the backwoods sometimes make a great show of counting the nodules on cane, the knots on lilac bushes, the spots on bass in September, the freckles on their left hands and so on, to determine the number of cold spells to be expected in the coming winter, but I do not believe that any of these signs are taken very seriously by adult hillfolk.”

“Many of them do believe, however, that they can make some general forecasts about winter weather by examining the breast- bone of a wild goose killed in the fall. If the bone is thin and more or less transparent, the winter will be mild; if the bone is thick and opaque, the winter will be severe. If the bone is white, there will be a great deal of snow; if the bone is red, or has many red spots, the winter may be very cold, but the snowfall will be unusually light.”

“The severity of the approaching winter is indicated by the thickness of furs and feathers and cornshucks and so on. If hair on muskrats, skunks, coons, and possums is unusually thick, the hillman expects a hard winter. If goose feathers are ‘veined close’ it means severe weather ahead. Every backwoods child has heard the little rhyme: Onion skin mighty thin, easy winter comin’ in.”

“Some old men tell me that a summer in which the foliage on trees is unusually dense, or exceptionally bright in color, is followed by a very cold winter. When great numbers of squirrels are seen moving toward the south, it is regarded as a sign of an early fall and hard winter.”

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