Living in the country allows you to be more aware of natural phenomenon: the north and south movements of the sun with the seasons, the phases of the moon, the patterns of weather. All of these have an influence on what tasks you will tick off from your To-Do-List on any given day. Each work-day, we open the side of the garage for either our Fair-Weather-Car (Honda Civic Hybrid) or Foul-Weather-Car (Subaru All-Wheel-Drive) according to the whether prediction for the day. While technology and the internet give us more data than most TV news weather reporters had prior to five years ago, centuries of old-timey weather observation are sometimes more accurate for planning ahead. Shepherds and farmers spend most of their lives outside in the elements and under the skies. They are observant of what is happening with eye-sight. Those shepherds beat out the Magi in finding Christ in the manger, right? While scientists have identified a number of natural processes that influence weather (e.g. jet streams, ocean currents, rotation patterns for norther and southern hemispheres, ice sheets, etc.), watching the sky has worked well for farmers (and sailors).
“Red sky in morning: farmer take warning. Red sky at night: farmer delight.” works on the East Coast of North America because of the prevailing west-to-east flow of air masses and weather fronts. If the sunrise (red sky in morning) lights up the clouds, then a warm front with potential steady rain, followed by the turbulent thunder showers and wind of a cold front is moving in for the day. Lousy weather to work outside. If the sunset (red sky at night) is beautiful, the storm has passed east of you, bringing a clear, high pressure system for the next day. Great day to work the fields.
The annual weather predictions in almanacs fascinate me. When NOAA and The Weather Channel cannot get the weather prediction right 24 hours out, how can the almanac publish an annual listing of what will happen next April 1st – 5th? I read the Hagerstown Farmer’s Almanac (in Maryland, within 100 miles of us) explanation of how they calculate the weather well in advance. The main variable that I recall they rely on is the amount of time before or after mid-night of the apogee of the full moon. If this occurs so many minutes one way, then seven days out the weather will be thus; Or, if this occurs so many minutes that way, then seven days out… and so on. Hmmmm.
They claim that their prediction rate is more accurate that all those complicated computer models which are compiling thousands of data points of ocean surface temperatures, wind speeds, barometric readings, and reports from weather watchers with their fingers in the breeze.Of course, their prediction of “nor’easter” is usually in a three-day window, and if the storm hits a couple of days before or after, we are likely to cut them some slack.
But, at our rehab-clinic, around the end of February, our conversations with our older clients and farmers is usually something like, “Looks kinda nice out there today, but don’t put away your long-johns, the almanac calls for three more major storms…”. Then we move on to discussions about whether we can get our potatoes in for St. Patrick’s Day. Spending a good amount of time fixing old-timey folks, we listen to their perspectives on country life.
A few years back, a some of them told us about how to predict snow fall. One said look for the bee hives (actually paper wasp nests, but that is a technicality). If the nests were low in bushes, a light winter was coming. If they were high in tree branches, heavy snow was coming. Okay, all those wasps would be dead at first freeze regardless of nest location, but they knew that the survival of their off-spring relied on placing their next where it would winter over. Hmmmm.
Another told us to watch for when the deer changed from their rusty-brown summer fur to course dark grey brown fur. The sooner that this occurred the faster and harsher the winter. Wouldn’t you know that the deer turned in September last year. Hmmmm.
The Woolie-Worm forecast (a hairy brown-black caterpillar which crawls around in late summer) gets published every year in our local paper. The various lengths of each section of color foretells the length and severity of winter. Hmmmm.
A third client told us to count the foggy days in August. For each day of fog in August, we would have a snow storm in winter. That gives you up to 31 snow storms from October to April here in the mountains. Last August we causally noticed that about half of the days were foggy, when we drove to work. Last winter was one of the harshest we have lived through with 13 major snow storms, and a couple of light dusting just to rub salt in our wounds. Hmmm.
Without questioning their observation method, I did wonder what fog in August had to do with snow in winter. My speculations are that fog indicates the amount of moisture in the air and interaction of warm and cold air masses in our region. Warm air holds lots of moisture. Cold air condenses that moisture to fog, or rain if it gets to the dew point. Calm air allows the moisture to linger as fog (low barometric pressure) or dew on the ground (high barometric pressure). Moving air turns the moisture into rain drops. Our region of the mountains is near the meeting point of the warm, moist air from the Gulf region, and the cold, dry air from the Upper-Plains and Great Lakes regions. This time of year, the warm air dominates giving us lots of potential fog or thunderstorms. In winter, the cold air will turn that moisture into snow. Fog is August, Snow in Winter.
This year we are going to be more methodical, especially as Progressive Farmer is calling for early freezes in the upper Mid-West, and we have had nights in the 50F’s and 40F’s at the end of July. We have a copy of the August calendar on the back seat of our car to note what the weather is like on our drive to work.
August 1st: light fog… August 2nd, patchy fog… August 3rd, high fog… Oh, it looks like Fog in August. Better order some more warm-wollies for winter.