Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

September 21, 2009

Folk methods for weather prediction


Most people trust weathermen to tell them if it is going to be hot, cold, sunny, cloudy, rainy or snowy.

Meteorologists, such as Jim Cantore with the Weather Channel, rely on very scientific methods to predict weather, but before there was a Jim Cantore people relied on less conventional methods to predict the weather, specifically the winter.

One such method involves examining the rings on a woolly bear caterpillar to predict the severity of winter. If the caterpillar has two black rings, one at each end, then it is said the winter will harsh in the beginning and at the end, but the middle of winter will be mild.

Another method is counting the number of fogs that occur during the month of August to determine the number of snows there will be in the winter.

Gary Tilghman, agriculture Extension agent for Barren County, said he has heard of both weather predicting folkways.

“Those are the two biggest ones I keep hearing people say,” he said.

Tilghman said the University of Kentucky Extension Services relies more on the predictions of Tom Priddy, agriculture meteorologist with the University of Kentucky.

There are others, such as the thickness of the shuck on an ear of corn will determine the severity of winter as well as the thickness of a walnut shell.

“If you eat persimmons and you get the seed out of it and if it’s in the form of a shovel, that means it’s going to be a heavy snow because you need the shovel to shovel the snow,” said Bud Tarry, transportation director for Barren County schools.

Tarry doesn’t use any of the folkways to determine how many days of school students will be out due to snow.

“I don’t even read the Farmer’s Almanac to predict how many days we’re going to be out,” he said.

Bill Clary, spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, said he’s heard of such weather predicting folkways his entire life, although he’s not familiar with the specifics.

“I especially remember there was a woman in Crossville, Tenn. who would put forth a pronouncement every year based on the woolly worms. I do not remember being particularly impressed with her accuracy,” he said. “Personally, I’ve always been skeptical of stuff like this, since there seems to be no scientific validity of it. But I’m sure there are people who will vehemently disagree with me.”

Gary Palmer, assistant director of agriculture and natural resources at the University of Kentucky, has also heard of the folkways but said his family didn’t go by them when he was growing up in east Tennessee.

“There used to be a lady in Crab Orchard in Lincoln County that use to predict the weather from woolly worms, fogs in August and at least one other that I can’t think of,” he said. “One county still has a woolly worm festival.”

Every time he sees a woolly worm he thinks of the folkway, and said the direction in which a woolly worm is crawling also plays a role in predicting the severity of winter.

“If they are crawling south it will be a bad winter and north is good,” he said.

He recently visited east Tennessee and saw two woolly worms — one that was solid black and one that was solid brown. A solid black woolly worm means it will be a really bad winter, while a brown one means it will be a mild winter.

“Seems even woolly worms can’t agree,” he said.

Palmer said his father-in-law always predicted the end of bad weather in winter by Groundhog Day on Feb. 2.

“If the groundhog sees his shadow, then there will be six more weeks of bad weather. However, if you add 42 days to Feb. 2 that takes you to the middle of March which is about the time bad weather is typically over. I also found that if it was cloudy on Feb. 2 the my father-in-law would say that’s not the real Groundhog Day. It’s actually Feb. 15. He was a bit of a pessimist.”

Palmer believes there is some validity to a few of the weather predicting folkways.

“‘Red skies in the morning sailors (or shepherds) take warning and red skies at night sailor’s delight’ is valid from the standpoint that the sun is reflecting off of clouds that are in a position that indicates impending rain or shine depending on where they are,” he said.

The Farmer’s Almanac Web site has an article about the use of woolly worms to predict winter weather. Visit the Web site at Another Web site, Folklore Weather Forecasting, features others and can be found at