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12 old wives' tales predict winter weather

People have been using signs from nature to predict the weather since the beginning of time. Science may not support all of the theories, but here are a few interesting methods that have stood the test of time.


According to folklore believed to originate in the Ozarks, you can predict the coming winter weather by slicing a persimmon seed in half. If you see a spoon shape, there will be a lot of heavy, wet snow to scoop. A fork shape means light, powdery snow and a milder winter. If you see a knife, you can expect to be "cut" by cold, icy, windy weather.

The Jefferson County, Missouri, Extension Office has studied this method for nearly two decades, checking local seeds in the fall and comparing the shapes with the winter that follows. The seeds have been accurate more than 75% of the time.



Woolly bear caterpillars are the larval stage of the Isabella moth. They are black with a red-brown band in the middle, and according to folklore, the more black you see on these caterpillars, the harsher the winter will be. 

According to Donald Lewis, an entomologist at Iowa State University, there is some year-to-year variation in the amount of black hair on these caterpillars, but the differences are caused by age and wetness. Older caterpillars have more black than young ones, and if the fall weather is wet, they will often have more black.



This is one of the more odd methods of forecasting, but some people believe you can get an accurate 6-month forecast from examining the spleen of a pig. Gus Wickstrom of Saskatchewan, Canada, learned the pig spleen prognisticating method from his father, and became a local celebrity for his forecasting abilities. He passed away in 2007, but not before teaching his nephew, Jeff Woodward, the method. Every six months, Gus would butcher a hog, and as part of his belief in using every possible part of the animal, he examined the spleen to forecast the coming six months. It is divided into six sections representing the coming six months, and changes in thickness forecast changes in weather. Learn more about this fascinating method on the Pig Spleen Weather Prognistication Facebook page.

Another belief is that if you see pigs gathering sticks or leaves in the fall, there is a bad winter ahead. No word on whether pigs gathering straw or bricks are more reliable.


LCL Image: Hornet high-rises
Photo: University of Maryland Extension

If you notice hornets, bees, and wasps building their nests higher than usual, like in the tops of trees rather than closer to ground level, a harsh winter with lots of snowfall may be coming.


LCL Image: Wearing winter wool

If you notice livestock and wildlife looking more woolly than usual in the fall, they may be gearing up for a particularly harsh winter. Most mammals do grow thicker fur as the temperatures drop, but if they look like they're wearing winter coats, it might be time to invest in a new coat for yourself.


LCL Image: Fluffy bunnies and squirrels

If rabbits and squirrels look especially fat in the fall, they may be bulking up for a cold winter. Likewise, if you see squirrels burying nuts at a more furied pace than usual, that may be a sign. 

If you want to skip the gym a few times or enjoy an extra pumpkin spice latte, you can also claim you are bulking up for winter.


LCL Image: Prognosticating pests

Animals definitely seem to know what's up when it comes to winter weather, and they'll do whatever they have to do to survive, including coming into your safe, warm house. Mice and spiders always try to move in when temperatures start to drop, but if you're really battling to keep them out, it may be because they know bad weather is coming. Likewise, if spiders build larger webs than usual, it could be because they are trying to catch more food and fill their spider bellies for a coming cold snap.


LCL Image: Mole holes
Photo: Michigan State University Extension

How deep are the mole holes in your neighborhood? The old wives' tale is that if mole holes are deeper than 2.5 feet, a harsh winter is ahead. The shallower the holes, the milder the winter.


LCL Image: Foggy Augusts

One old wives' tale says that every foggy August day equates to a day of snowfall in the coming winter. No large-scale studies have been done to prove or disprove this theory, but don't tell that to the old wives who swear by it.


LCL Image: Heavy fruit trees

If apple and other fruit trees produce more fruit than usual, a harsh winter may be in the forecast. The theory is that trees produce more food for animals, who will need it to survive heavy snow and cold temperatures. Also, producing additional fruit and seeds means the species will have a better chance of survival if trees are killed due to a particularly harsh winter.

Likewise, if oak trees are laden with acorns, or if pine trees are producing larger than normal pinecones, stock up on extra mittens.


LCL Image: Forecasting in a nutshell

Hickory nuts and walnuts have a hard shell and a "fruit" surrounding that shell. The story goes that the thicker the outer shell, the worse the winter will be. This theory extends to acorns and the thickness of their shells, and it could be nature's way of protecting the tree species during harsh weather.


LCL Image: Is color the key?

Some people believe that the brighter the leaves are in the fall, the snowier and colder the coming winter will be. Leaf color is actually determined by several things, like the amount of moisture received during the growing season. However, once the days get shorter and the temperatures drop in the fall, the amount of chlorophyll in the leaves decreases, causing the changes in leaf colors we see in the fall.


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