What Does Weather Lore Say About Hurricanes?

Hurricane season begins June 1st! What signs from nature did our ancestors watch to warn against weather's fiercest storm? Check out the list and watch the cows and alligators.

Countless wives’ tales and folklore sayings center around storms. Whether it’s the color of skies or wisps of clouds that look like mare’s tails, these saying and rhymes warned sailors and farmers to pay attention to the signals nature was sending about the weather that was coming. But did our ancestors warn about hurricanes, weather’s fiercest of storms? We searched our archives for hurricane weather lore and found the following (some of which we’ve never heard before!):

Seagull, seagull, sit on the sand;
It’s never good weather when you’re on land.

If there’s one bird that will know when a hurricane is approaching over the ocean, surely it’s the seagull. Seagulls spend the majority of their time flying over the ocean or sitting on its surface, so if you see them lingering on land it’s a sure sign there’s ill weather at sea. One reason why they do this is they can sense changes in barometric pressure—and hurricanes have the lowest pressure of any kind of storm. Another explanation for why gulls land and wait for storms to pass is because the incoming low pressure also discourages thermals (the rising currents of warm air that allow birds to effortlessly soar to higher altitudes).

When sparrows hide under hedges or roof ledges, a hurricane is coming.

Like gulls, sparrows can also be observed roosting whenever low-pressure systems move in, and for the same reasons.

When a cow carries its tail upright, it is a sign of a coming hurricane.

cow trivia

According to farmers and animal scientists, you can tell a cow’s mood by the position of its tail. When the tail is lifted vertically, it means the cow feels threatened.

Sharks swim out to deeper water just before a hurricane.

Sharks - Great white shark

It’s true, sharks actually move into deeper waters hours before a hurricane makes landfall. Like birds and other animals, sharks are able to sense changes in water pressure (this is how they detect disturbances and vibrations in the water). So when a hurricane’s low pressure nears, sharks relocate as a way to avoid being swept into shallow waters or washed ashore by powerful wind-driven waves.

When an alligator opens his jaws with an extra-long bellow, a hurricane is imminent.

To be honest, we’re not sure how an alligator’s growl relates to hurricanes (perhaps it’s trying to equalize pressure), but this saying can be heard in some parts of Florida and the Gulf states.

More animal weather lore here!

Have you heard of any other sayings, or witnessed odd animal behavior just before a hurricane or tropical storm? We’d love to know!  Share with us in the comments below.

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Tiffany Means

Tiffany Means is a freelance writer and a degreed meteorologist. She specializes in weather forecasting and enjoys making the subject of weather (and the science behind it) more relatable. She currently resides in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

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Coleen Soden

My father always said when acorns fall green from the trees it is going to be a bad winter. This year they are so I guess we will see! I think Farmers Almanac is also saying cold winter here in Northeast! I’m in Northeast PA.


I live in central NC. I have heard that 2 weeks after a thunderstorm in the winter months there will be snow. Apparently, it has about a 30% chance of accuracy. I don’t set the calendar by it, but it’s fun to watch!


That’s an interesting one!

Arlissa Campbell

Ive always heard.. red at night sailors delight. Red at morning sailors take warning.. I don’t live near the coast but the same applies for mountain folk. When the sky is red in the morning it’s gonna storm..

Sandi Duncan

Hi Arlissa,

That lore is a very well-known and popular one and it does seem to prove pretty accurate. We do have an article on it here – https://www.farmersalmanac.com/red-sky-at-night-15843. Thanks for being here.


My mother used to say when you can’t hear a bird or see one and the sky turns yellow, a tornado is due to hit near. It happened fifteen years ago…..she was right.

Sandi Duncan

Amazing what happens when you tune into nature! Thanks for sharing Mary.

Sherry L.

When the pinecones close up, rain’s coming!!

Connie Perron

any one ever hear when the crepe myrtle stops flowering hurricane season is over! I’ve tracked it for 4 years and so far it has hit 100%

Harvey Hantula

Also the way to tell when a buffalo is mad his tail will be pointed up.

Harvey Hantula

My father used to say a Woodpecker hammering on he tree is asking for rain .We were on our family farm and Dad said we are cutting hay tomorrow, so I got up and Dad was not up so I said Dad we are supposed to cut the hay today and he said no the woodpecker is asking for rain 2 days later the storm came in.

Susan Higgins

Hey Harvey, wow, that’s cool! We have some more weather lore about watching birds. Check it out here!


My daughter is in Florida. She said some of the area girls who grew up in FL, talked about citrus trees or other plants having double blooms and it was an indication of a bad season for hurricanes. Anyone have any thoughts on that?

Susan Higgins

We hadn’t heard of that one!

Barbara Patrick

Here on the coast of SC before weather was on radio. hurricanes were called “ a big blow”. Folks looked to the sky for cloud patterns and color for info. Plus signs from nature. Legends are many for us to believe. Yes some are true.


i lived in charleston i remember the edges of the sky turn yellow when a hurrican is comming

Joyce Plunk

Cows will gather in a corner of the field & turn their backs to an upcoming storm.

John O

In 1969, just before Hurricane Camille hit the Gulf Coast, my father was away on business in Mississippi (we had just moved into Louisiana and were completely new to hurricanes). His colleagues told him that water was coming up from the ground and that was a sign of a really bad hurricane, so they sent him home (Camille was a very powerful Cat 5 at landfall).

I’ve never heard that repeated anywhere else. Actually came here looking to see if it is repeated lore.

Susan Higgins

Interesting, John O. We’ll see if we can dig around some more. Good info!


When the leaves of a tree turn over it means a Storm is coming

Cindy Wilson

In the late 1990,s we had a really bad hail storm here in Maine. About 5 minutes before it started my cat ran around in circles and kept doing this until the hail started. We were really concerned about her, low and behold the storm came and she stopped.


When living in California my little poodle would put her chin to the ground and barked incessently at the ground and within a few minutes a earthquake would happen and was never wrong with this behavior and only did this when earthquakes happened.

Susan Higgins

Hi Natalia, they’re incredible, aren’t they? We’ve seen videos like that on YouTube, where the dogs start barking before the earthquake hits. Fascinating.


I don’t know if Lake Erie seagulls are different from Atlantic Ocean seagulls, but here on the north coast of the US., they can often be found in shopping mall parking lots looking for food.

Susan Higgins

Hi Emma, Yes, same here in Maine. They’re definitely scavengers. The folklore was probably noted before shopping malls, but it’s still interesting to note their behavior.

Peggy Snead

Turtles started marching across folks yard on the barrier island, towards the Indian River Lagoon two days before Irma, bees in a neighbor’s wall became more active. Wish I could post this pic of an egret hunkered on the rail of a pickup truck in Coco the day before Irma hit. He let me get within five feet then just walked around to the other side. Did not try to fly away. These creatures KNOW.

Susan Higgins

Hi Peggy, thanks for sharing. Fascinating!

Henry J Schmidt

In south Texas, when the mesquite beans are plentiful. one can expect a hard winter ahead. This year they have been very abundant so get out your “long johns” its on the way.

Susan Higgins

Hi Henry J Schmidt, thanks for sharing!


We had a Wren in our barn before IRMA we have never had them in that area of the barn before it was sitting in a carriage in a sheltered area. We laughed and told it it could stay as long as it like. But we noticed the next day it had left and the Hurricanes path had shifted to the west as well.

Susan Higgins

Christine – interesting. They definitely know the safe spots.

Rosemary Redmond

When ants start racing up trees

Pam Harris

That makes sense. Wow!

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