By: Kathy Duttenhefner, Biologist
What are some of nature’s signs that may indicate we are in for a harsh cold winter? For years I have been have been using my observations in nature to help predict the weather, especially the upcoming winter weather. Of course my winter predictions are usually just shared with my daughters. Call it an ‘old wives tale’ but every fall my girls and I watch for woolly bear caterpillars. Weatherlore suggests that the wider a woolly bear’s middle, cinnamon brown stripe the milder the winter, lots of black indicates that we will be in for a hard, snowy winter.
A couple weekends ago, at Lake Metigoshe State Park my daughters and I observed two large ant hills that we never noticed before. We also observed that the chokecherry trees were heavy with berries. The chipmunks were performing amazing acrobatics as they feverously stored food away for the winter. I told the girls, that although chipmunks hibernate, they do not store fat. Instead they slowly gnaw away at their summer’s horde throughout the winter. We wondered if the chipmunks were worried about an extra-long winter and whether they would have enough food cache to make through March. Do they know something we perhaps don’t?
In truth, farmers, outdoorsmen, fishermen and old-timers have been predicting the weather for centuries. Much of the weatherlore we have read is based on the environment and the effects that changes in the weather have on insects, animals, birds, and people. The Farmer’s Almanac has been forecasting harsh winters since 1792! Onion skins, acorns, woolly bear caterpillars and pigs, all have been used to determine the severity of an upcoming winter. Of course many scientists will dismiss much of the weatherlore but if you ask me, there has to be
truth in some of the weatherlore that has been passed on for generations. So, next time you are out enjoying the great outdoors keep a sharp eye out for some nature signs that might be letting you know we are in for a cold, hard winter.
I have put together a list of my top ten favorite nature weatherlore signs of a hard, snowy winter to come.
- Watch for woolly bear caterpillars crossing the roads and sidewalks. Check the black bands on the woolly bear caterpillars, if there is more black than brown the winter may be harsh.
- Watch the squirrels; they seem to tell us the most. “Squirrels gathering nuts in a flurry will cause snow to gather in a hurry.” This old weather proverb suggests that if squirrels seem to be hording more nuts than usual it is an indication that we may be in for a long, hard winter. When squirrel tails are very bushy, that’s a sign of a tough winter to come. If squirrels build their nests lower in the trees it’s also a sign of a bad winter ahead.
- In July did you notice any ant hills that were really high? High ant hills, winter will be snowy.
- Are trees and shrubs loaded with berries and nuts? Plentiful berries and nuts may be indicators of a rough winter ahead.
- Are flowers still blooming late into the fall? “Flowers bloomin’ in late autumn, a sure sign of a bad winter comin’."
- Check the ponds for muskrat houses. If houses appear to be quite a bit larger than normal it’s a sure sign of a harsh winter.
- Watch for the early arrival of the snowy owls. Tell the kids you are on a quest to find Harry Potter’s owl, Hedwig.
- Does it seem like the ducks and geese are packing it in and heading south a bit early? Could mean a hard winter.
- Does it seem like there are more mice and spiders entering your house? Ewww! Could be a sign of a harsh winter.
- How high are the hornet’s nests in the trees this year? “See how high the hornet’s nest, ‘twill tell how high the snow will rest."
It’s not too early to start thinking about “Old Man Winter”. Head out to a state park and make some of you own nature observations and winter predictions. Have some fun looking for nature’s signs. Share your favorite weatherlore or observations and predictions with us on Facebook.