Winter by the Old Signs

The Foxfire book series is one of my all-time favorites for many reasons. This series of books and magazines from the late 1960s and 1970s, written by English teacher Eliot Wigginton and his students, gives real-life examples of early American Appalachian life and folklore. Included in the 14 published volumes are instructions for home building, broom making, hog dressing and so much more. Practically everything that a person needed to survive in those closed rural communities was recorded and preserved for future readers, long after those traditions have surely died out.

The first book of the series lists ways to forecast winter weather for the year ahead. Some warnings for a bad winter include:

“If the north side of a beaver damn has more sticks than the south.

If squirrels’ tails are bushier in the fall.

If crows gather together.

If crickets get in the chimney.

If screech owls sound like women crying.”

For weather indicators, a late frost or lots of low rolling thunder in fall meant a bad winter. For every foggy day in August, there would be a snowy day in winter. And if those fogs came earlier in June or July, and were severe, there would be early snow in winter. One interesting prediction was based on smoke from your chimney. Apparently, if the smoke flows from the chimney to the ground, it will snow within a month’s time.

Some local bad winter prediction anecdotes I’ve heard are:

If corn shucks are thicker than usual.

If the persimmon seed covering is thicker.

If caterpillars have heavier coats.

The Farmer’s Almanac has predicted a very cold and wet winter for the Southeast this year, but did they pay attention to any of the old signs? According to their website, they use a set of rules for weather prediction made back in 1818 by their first editor, David Young. They never use satellite or commercial weather service data. More impressive is the fact that these predictions are made several years in advance. With their 80% success rate, I’m erring on caution this winter for sure.

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