Before people had satellites, Doppler radar, and all the other high-tech gizmos that we rely on to predict the weather, they relied on indicators from the natural world to help predict what the weather was going to do next. From that need to forecast the weather, all kinds of folklore rhymes and sayings arose.
In addition to the 20 Signs of a Hard Winter that we’ve posted in the past, we found even more signs from nature that our ancestors relied on to predict the upcoming winter. Have you heard of any of these?
Count The Hedge Apples
First, you might be asking, “what are hedge apples?” They’re sometimes referred to as Osage oranges and among fruits, they stick out as particularly odd looking. About the size of a grapefruit, these green fruits have a bumpy, knobby appearance. In fact, that lumpy look is why some people call hedge apples “monkey brains.” The trees that they grow on are native to parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, though they can be found throughout most of the United States.
So how do hedge apples predict the weather? According to regional folklore, there are three things to look for. First, if hedge apples fall from the trees later than usual, this is said to indicate that the coming winter will be cold and snowy. The same is true if hedge apple trees produce more fruits than usual—winter will be harsh. Lastly, if hedge apples are larger than normal, it suggests that winter temperatures will be colder, while smaller hedge apples indicate a milder winter ahead.
Crack Some Walnut Shells
Similar to hedge apple folklore, regions that have plentiful walnut trees often rely on walnuts to see what the coming winter will bring. There are two things that people look for. First, plentiful walnuts mean that the winter will be cold, while fewer nuts in the trees mean a milder winter. If the number of walnuts leaves you uncertain, then get crackin’! Thicker walnut shells are supposed to be a telltale sign of a cold winter ahead while thin walnut shells mean temperatures will stay on the warm side.
Just in case you don’t have a walnut tree handy, this bit of folklore works with hickory nuts, too.
Where Are Squirrels Building Nests?
We’ve heard the folklore saying that squirrels gathering lots of nuts “in a flurry” as a means to predict the weather, but turns out, where they’re building their nests is also very telling. There are two types of squirrel nests: the dens they build in hollow trees and clusters of leaves that can be seen among tree branches. Look for the leafy nests to help predict winter weather. Folklore says that when squirrels build these nests higher in trees, the winter is sure to be harsh, whereas lower nests or nests that are away from the tree’s center means the winter will be mild.
Apple and Onion Skins May Hold Clues to the Future
Did you know? Our ancestors also observed the skins of onions, evidenced by this folklore rhyme:
Onion skins very thin, mild winter coming in.
Onion skins thick and tough, coming winter cold and rough.
So if you’ve harvested some onions from the garden, check the skins to see if they’re thicker or thinner (it doesn’t count with store-bought onions, which may have been grown elsewhere).
If you don’t have any homegrown onions handy, then bite into a locally grown apple, instead, because this observation applies to apple skins as well. Thicker, tougher apple skins are supposed to mean that a cold winter is on the way.
Can Pine Cones Predict the Weather?
Much like the predictions that rely on an overabundance of fruit or nuts to predict what winter weather will bring, it is said that numerous pine cones in the fall foretell a long, cold winter. Scientists are doubtful on this point since pine trees can take three years to produce pine cones.
The interesting thing about pinecones is that they can also be used to forecast rain. In dry weather, pinecones stay open in order to drop pollen and seeds, but as humidity rises, the scales of a pine cone close up to protect the seeds or pollen inside. This happens because the pine cone’s scales absorb ambient moisture, expand, and squeeze shut. In other words, if pine cones are closed, then rain may be in the near future.
Tell us—what signs are you seeing in your back yard?