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.
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.
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.
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.
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.