Way before national weather services started using advanced satellite imagery and ocean surface temperatures to forecast annual snow totals, winter lovers relied on the nature around them to make their yearly weather projections.
It’s a system that seems far from scientific, but these natural signs — known as “Old Wive’s Tales” — have been passed down from generation to generation, and are still used by many snow enthusiasts today.
Weather maps not your thing? Here are a few of the most popular weather superstitions for finding out just what Old Man Winter has in store for us this ski season.
An Abundance of Nuts on the Ground
Notice a lot more acorns on the ground this fall? What’s a pain for lawnmowers has been said to be a good sign for skiers and snowboarders, as an excess of nuts and acorns on the ground signals a harsh winter ahead.
Known as a “Mast Year” these nutty falls are most commonly associated with a coming winter of big storms and powder days.
Stripes on a Wooly Worm
That cute, fuzzy caterpillar might know more about the weather than the Weather Channel and Doppler combined. Possibly the oldest Wive’s Tale in the book, the two-toned caterpillar is said to predict the severity of winter with the thickness of its brown band.
If the brown band in the middle is narrow, the winter will be harsh; if it’s thick, the opposite is in order. There is no science backing the claim but a 1950s survey by American Museum of Natural History Insect Curator Dr. C.H. Curran determined the method to be 80-percent accurate.
Sinking Chimney Smoke
In terms of actual storm prediction, it is said that chimney smoke that sinks toward the ground rather than rising is a sign of snowstorm within 26 days.
This tale is rooted in some actual science, as meteorologists often say that low-pressure systems (then ones that carry snowstorms and other precipitation) carry water vapor that condenses on chimney smoke, weighing it down and forcing it toward the ground, though it’ll all probably happen a little quicker than that 26-day turnaround.
The Height of a Hornet Nest
Count on New England to have a whole bushel of zany weather predictors when it comes to winter. One of the all-time favorites regards hornet nests.
If a hornet nest is looking like it was built higher in a tree than normal (because we’re all measuring, right?), then look for higher snow levels the following winter. Hornets tend to abandon their nests before winter, but hey, maybe they’re just getting a head start.
Horses Growing Thicker Hair
The Amish maintain that we’re in for a big winter when their Standardbred horses grow a thicker coat of hair than normal. Many other folk tales suggest the same for other animals, including the tails of squirrels of raccoons, or the nape of a cow’s neck.
It’s not an outright outlandish hypothesis, as animals possess an uncanny ability to survive through every season, no matter the conditions. If your horse is looking a little shaggy, clean up the barn and get those powder boards ready.
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