Before the National Weather Service started in 1890, farmers did not have a scientific way to predict the weather, so they left the forecasting to the plants and animals. Many established ways of weather prediction that farmers used have long been considered old wives' tales or animal folklore. Though scientists don’t always agree with this method, many people still use it as a way to predict the weather.
Feb. 2 is an important day in Punxsutawney, Penn., as well as many other states across the United States and Canada. It is on this day, Groundhog Day, many gather to watch a groundhog as it emerges from its winter hibernation. The story says that if the groundhog sees its shadow there will be six more weeks of winter. This is only one method of animal weather prediction out there.
One of the most popular ways of predicting winter weather is using a persimmon seed. This method involves slicing a ripe persimmon seed in half and distinguishing the type of flatware it most resembles. It is said that if the seed is spoon-shaped then be prepared for a lot of wet snow and shoveling in your future. The fork, however, means a milder winter with just light dustings. And then there is the knife, which means that you will be “cut” with chilling winds. There are a few people around the office who partake in this ritual. When asked what he found, Chris Haefke replied, “Spoon!” Many others have also found spoons in their persimmon seeds; so, if this folklore proves true, I would start sharpening those shovels.
Another prediction method is to take a gander at a woolly bear caterpillar’s stripes to determine the winter ahead. It is said that if you chance upon a caterpillar with a black band wider than its rust-colored one, then you’re in store for a harsh winter. Though many have come to believe in this way of predicting the weather, with some even holding festivals in the wooly bear’s honor, scientists say the thickness of the rust-colored bands on the caterpillar actually tell of the past summer, the amount of vegetation consumed and the actual age of the caterpillar, rather than a future forecast.
Before the turn of the century, farmers used the goose bone method as a way of predicting the oncoming weather. This method entails drying out a goose’s breast bone and watching it as it turns colors. The saying goes, “If the bone turns black, purple or blue it will be a harsh winter for you. If the bone stays white you will be alright.”
The most outlandish forecasting method I have read is the myth of the onion skin. “Onion skins very thin, mild winter coming in; onion skins thick and tough, coming winter cold and rough.” This is not a well-practiced approach to winter weather forecasting, but nonetheless is considered cherished folklore.
There are many more ways that farmers and Missourians alike use to predict the winter weather. So whether you rely on animal and plant forecasters or that of the National Weather Service, just remember, “We’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather, whether we like it or not.”