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BY GUESS AND BY GOLLY

Weather has always fascinated me so, at different times through my life, I have fancied the idea of being a meteorologist. After all, it is true what they say, that there is no other career where you could be wrong so often and still have a job!

I remember my days working at the radio station where it was my job to write the commercial spots and log them into the play schedule. The DJ’s would give the weather forecast at least every hour but their notes would not be updated as often.  They would be in their sound-proof booths with no windows to the outside reading the forecast when it was doing completely the opposite outside. So many times we had to run in the newsroom, arms flailing, and motion to cut the forecast because as they were predicting sunny weather, it was pouring rain at that moment!

So, how exactly do meteorologists predict the weather, or rather, try to predict it? They use satellites to observe cloud patterns around the world and radar to measure precipitation. They also have other tools to measure air pressure, temperature, wind speed, wind direction and other factors. They take into consideration atmospheric conditions of the past and present. Then all of this data is plugged into super computers so that they can make educated guesses about future weather conditions.

Aha…educated guesses are the two keywords. It is not an exact science. With this said, how can the OLD FARMERS ALMANAC be 80% accurate when predicting the weather over the years? They use a unique age-old formula that was devised by the almanac’s founder, Robert E. Thomas, in 1792. He believed the weather on earth was influenced by sunspots which are magnetic storms on the surface of the sun.

Notes about his formula are locked in a black box in the OLD FARMERS ALMANC offices in Dublin, NH. Although over the years, scientists have refined and enhanced his formula with state-of-the-art technology and modern scientific calculations, the basic formula remains the same. Last year the almanac’s overall accuracy rate in forecasting the direction of temperature range from normal was 83%…not too shabby!

All of this said, farmers, ranchers, and other outdoorsmen throughout history have done a pretty accurate job of weather predicting by just observing nature, animals in particular. If there wasn’t some validity behind them, these sayings would not have stood the test of time. Here are a few choice ones:

  1. Expect rain when dogs eat grass, cats purr and wash, sheep turn out to the wind, oxen sniff the air, and swine are restless
  2. If bulls lead cows to pasture, expect rain (or maybe a little ruminant romance!); if cows precede the bulls, weather is uncertain
  3. When cats sneeze, it is an indicator of rain
  4. Cattle lying in the pasture is a sign of early rain
  5. Rain is eminent when horses and cattle stretch their necks and sniff the air
  6. Woolly bear caterpillars are said to be able to predict how harsh the winter will be. The browner they are as compared to black, the milder the winter will be
  7. Most famous predictor of winter is the groundhog. If he sees his shadow on February 2, there will be six more weeks of winter. For us northerners, there usually is 6 more weeks of winter after February 2 anyway, regardless of his seeing his shadow
  8. Watch your moles, the farther down they dig their holes, the worse the winter. If they dig down 2 1/2 feet, it will be a hard winter, only 2 feet deep means a milder one, and a foot deep predicts a mild winter. My question is, how are we going to know how deep they dig!
  9. Fat rabbits in October and November means a long, cold winter
  10. If sheep go up in the hills and scatter, it means clear weather
  11. If you see bats fly in late evening, it signals fair weather
  12. Wolves howl more before a storm
  13. Clear moon, frost soon. Now this has some scientific backing, since a cloud cover tends to insulate the land and keep temperatures higher
  14. When leaves show undersides, rain is coming in
  15. You can tell the temperature by a cricket’s chirps. Count how many chirps are in a 14-second span and add 40 and it will give you the temperature in Fahrenheit at the cricket’s location, give or take a few degrees
  16. Rain foretold, it will be long lasting, and with short notice, it will soon pan out
  17. Dew on the grass, rain will never come to pass; grass dry at morning light, look for rain before the night
  18. Sound travels far and wide, stormy day will betide
  19. If birds fly low, expect rain
  20. Cows laying down, different weather on the way
  21. Red sky in the morning; sailors take warning, red sky at night, sailors’ delight
  22. If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb, and vice versa
  23. Halo around sun or moon, rain or snow soon
  24. Count the seconds between lightning and thunder to tell how far away a storm is since light travels faster than sound. For every 5 seconds, lighting is 1 mile away

Some of these can be chalked up to folklore and old wives’ tales, but some do have validity behind them. Some folks can “feel” when rain is coming, or if there is a general change in weather on the way. Many folks suffering with arthritis know when rain or snow is coming because their joints begin to hurt from the increase in moisture in the air. There have been many times that I have been in the fields and could “smell” the change in the air as rain was on the way.

Farmers, ranchers, and generally anyone who spends a great deal of time outside learns to pay attention to nature’s signs, for there are subtle indicators when storms are brewing. Paying attention can mean the difference between getting dowsed or not. One time last spring when planting, Ron decided to make one more round even though his senses told him not to. Consequently, he and the equipment got soaked and the planter had to be cleaned before returning to the field. It pays to pay attention!

You may be skeptical of some of these predictions but, when you think about it, some of them may be as accurate as the meteorologists’ forecasts. It’s all a game of “by guess and by golly.”

Photo by Pexels.

Published on Feb 8, 2019

Grit Magazine

Live The Good Life with GRIT!