I’ve often wondered how people way back when knew what the weather was going to be without the local news to rely on. How did they know what season it was without a calendar? How did they know if it was going to be a bad winter? How did they know when to plant their crops? These questions fascinate me. If we ever have to live without power, it would be very useful to know these things .
Before the times of radio, television, and internet, people had to rely on watching the sky and nature to predict what the weather would be. Sometimes they went by superstitions or folklore, and sometimes their observations were quite accurate. I thought it would be fun to list some old sayings about the weather; you can decide what seems like it could really be true, and what is just silly.
Watching the farm animals.
When the animals all started to get restless and noisy, people knew that a really bad storm was coming.
Horses are nervous, and young farm animals frolic and play more than usual before a storm.
It was said that pigs could “see the wind”. They used to say, “When pigs squeal in winter, there will be a blizzard. When pigs carry sticks it will rain, and when they lie in the mud, there will be a dry spell.”
Pigs scratch their backs on the fence before a shower.
If a pig digs a hole in the ground it’s going to get very hot.
Dogs and horses will sniff the air before a rain comes.
When hens cluck loud and cluster in groups, it’s going to rain.
When roosters crow later in the day, it’s going to rain.
When ducks quack a lot it’s going to rain.
If the chickens stay out in the rain, it won’t last long.
When humid air causes hogs to snort it’s going to rain.
An unusual amount of fat on the meat of a butchered beef meant a severe winter.
When lots of flies annoy the cows it’s going to rain.
“Rain cows” call for rain. Cows bellow more before a shower.
The more a cow swings her tail, the more severe the oncoming storm will be.
When the cat stayed by the fire or licked its feet, you could expect rain.
When dogs began to dig holes, howled when somebody went outside, ate grass or refused meat, you could expect rain.
House mice squeaked and scratched in the walls when bad weather was coming.
Geese honk before it storms.
Woodpeckers peck even harder before a bad rain.
When frogs hide under lily pads, it’s going to rain. They croak loudly before a rain, and are quiet when it’s going to be dry.
When the cricket’s chirp is high and clear, it’s going to rain.
When baby fawns stay close to the mother deer, it’s going to rain.
When hornets build their nests close to the ground, it’s going to be a bad winter.
When spiders spin their webs on the southside of the barn, it’s going to be a bad winter.
If an owl is heard in October the weather will soon be getting very cold.
When Robins sing more (“rain hollering”) and stay close to their nests a storm is coming. They would also seek shelter in sheds or barns before bad weather arrived.
Deer leave higher ground and come down to lower grounds before a storm.
Rabbits seek shelter before a storm, so more were caught in traps when bad weather was coming.
Squirrels become more active and feisty before a storm.
If squirrels begin collecting nuts before Fall, if their nests are low in the trees, or if their tails are extra bushy, it’s going to be a bad winter.
Female opossums and raccoons carry their young to higher ground before flooding rain.
To know the temperature outside, count the chirps of a cricket for 25 seconds, then add 37 to that number. This will give you the correct temperature in Fahrenheit.
If you see ants traveling in lines you can expect bad weather. If they are scattered around, the weather will be nice.
Ants build higher mounds before a hard rain, to prevent rainwater from coming in. Some ants also close their holes.
Butterflies hide under leaves to protect their wings from rain.
Bees busy late in the summer means a hard winter.
If squirrels hide their nuts at the base of a tree or inside a fallen log, there will be little or no snow during the winter. If they store their nuts inside a hallow tree, there will be a hard winter.
When a lot of fireflies are out at night, you can expect three days of nice weather.
When fish in the pond rise to the surface, it’s going to rain. They know the insects will be flying lower when the air is humid. For this reason, fishermen know that it’s harder to catch a fish before a storm, because they are already full and won’t take the bait.
When foxes eat grass, it’s going to rain.
When the Blackbird’s call is sharp and shrill, it’s going to rain.
When swallows perch on a weather vane, you can be sure it’s going to rain.
If spiders spin their webs in the morning, the weather will be nice. If they destroy the webs, a storm is coming soon. The theory behind this is that in humid weather insects fly lower. Because of this, more insects are caught. They collect their prey and take down their web early before the rain washes it all away.
When coyotes stay close to their camps, a blizzard is coming.
Buzzards seem to disappear before a hailstorm.
Bees stay in their hives when the temperature is below 60 and above 102 degrees.
Ants come out of their nest when the temperature is 54 degrees or higher.
Cicadas only sing when the temperature outside is above 83 degrees.
Katydids shorten their calls when temps get low. They stop making any noise at 55 degrees.
Locusts only sing when its hot and dry.
All insects stop making noise when the temperature is 106 degrees or higher.
If a tree frog stays in the water and croaks, the weather will be stormy. If the frog climbs out of the water, the weather will be nice.
Leeches can also be used to predict the weather when placed in a jar with water. If the leech remains curled at the bottom, it predicts good weather. If the leech crawls to the top of the jar, rain is coming. If the leech swims rapidly, you can expect windy weather.
Silver maples and cottonwoods turn silver before rain.
Long, thick catalpa beans hanging on their tree means a wet summer.
When earthworms come up from the ground you can expect wet weather.
When trees have heavier bark on the north side of the trunk, there will be a lot of drifting snow during the winter.
There will be a cold winter when the autumn sumac leaves are redder than usual.
If the summer grass is deep green the winter will be very cold.
It’s going to be a long, hard winter when grapes mature too early, blackberries have lots of blooms, sweet potatoes have tough skins, corn has thick silks or extra-heavy husks, root vegetables grow deeper than usual, and watermelons have too many seeds.
When leaves turn upside down, it’s going to rain after 24 hours.
Daisies, Morning glories, tulips and dandelions all close up before rain.
The leaves of Chickweeds close before weather changes.
You can tell what the winter weather will be by cutting open a persimmons seed. If the shape inside the seed resembles a fork, it will be a light winter. If there is a knife, it will be cutting cold. And if there is a spoon, there will be heavy snowfall; the spoon indicates lots of shoveling.
Watch the woolly bear caterpillar (the larva of the tiger moth). The thicker his coat, the colder the winter will be. If there is a wide brown band between two black bands, the winter won’t be so bad. If it doesn’t have a brown band, the winter will be severe.
Using our senses.
When faraway sounds seem clearer, it’s going to rain for a long time.
Our sense of smell is keener before rain.
When smoke comes down it’s going to rain.
When chairs and tables start to creak it’s going to rain.
When teeth, bones, joints, muscles, sinuses and even bunions ache it’s a sign of bad weather.
Changes in blood pressure and pulse are also effected by the weather.
Weather vanes on top of windmills or roofs also gave signs of the weather changing. When the wind shifted the weather was going to change. If the weather vane was blown clockwise better weather was coming. If the wind blew counterclockwise bad weather was on its way.
Watching the sky.
A pink glow in the sunrise warns of bad weather; lots of wind and rain. A pink glow at sunset promises good weather.
“Red sky at morning,
Sailors take warning.
Red sky at night,
A tilted crescent moon with a faint circle (or halo) around it predicts rain. (Like it’s tipping over and spilling out.)
“A moon with a circle brings water in its beak.”
When there is a circle around the moon, count the stars within the circle. It will be that many days until the storm.
A crescent moon lying on its back was a sign of dry weather. (Kinda like a bowl holding the water in.)
A gray, cloudy sunset indicates rain.
“Evening sky gold, sunshine will hold.
Evening sky gray, rain on the way.”
If the sun looks faint and white before sunset, it warns of coming storms.
A whitish yellow sunset sky means rain during the night or early the next day.
Brightly colored sunsets with hard outlines around the clouds foretell rain and most likely wind.
Clear air and very bright stars mean rain is coming.
A gray sky in the morning with breaking clouds means fine weather.
Heavy dew in hot weather means good weather. No dew means rain will come.
“When morning comes and grass is wet
Another day of sunshine yet,
But let the morning grass be dry,
A rainy day in the by and by.”
If the clouds move in a different direction than the air on the ground, the wind is changing and so will the weather.
Soft, fluffy clouds mean good weather.
Oily looking clouds mean wind.
Small, inky clouds foretell rain.
A pale moon with bright stars in Autumn means frost.
A red moon means rain is coming.
A morning rainbow means rain. An evening rainbow means nice weather.
A sign of a quickly passing summer shower, when clouds appear like rocks and towers.
So, what do I believe? I really do think that quite a few of these old sayings make a lot of sense. And the Bible does say in Genesis 1:14, “And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years”. If the Lord meant the sun and moon to be signs to us, then I think it’s only wise to pay attention to them!
And then, some of these old sayings are obviously pure folklore. But it’s fun to see what people believed back in the old days! I think it would be interesting to watch some of these signs to see if they are accurate. I did see a squirrel hiding some nuts in the mulch under one of my baby fruit trees a few weeks ago. According to the old sayings that means we won’t have very much snow, if any, this winter. We’ll see!
Do you know of any signs that I missed? Are there any sayings that you remember your grandparents telling you about predicting the weather? Have you found any to be true? I’d love to hear what you think!
*most of these sayings are from the book: Good Old Days Country Wisdom.