Thursday, September 12, 2013

Weather Folklore

Weather folklore dates back to antiquity. The Bible, for example, contains references to weather and how to interpret signs in order to predict upcoming weather.

Here in America, we have not only our own versions of weather folklore, but also traditions brought over here from Europe by colonists. One such bit of lore holds that bees have some foreknowledge of how much snow will fall during the upcoming winter and build their nests accordingly.

So a bee’s nest very low to the ground means that we can expect very little snow, bad news for skiers, snowmobilers and others who enjoy winter sports. And nests built high off the ground suggest to us that we better stock up on snow shovels and gasoline for our snow blowers.

That’s all very well and even sort of believable. But what are we to think when bees build their nests at dizzying heights in huge trees? If this bit of folklore has any merit at all, then we Mainers should probably start packing our bags for the trip to Florida, because snow will probably reach over 50 feet deep.

I say this because I spotted a wasp’s nest at least 60 feet up in a pine tree near my house. Certainly, I don’t pay much heed to how high bees build their nests, but this is the highest bee’s nest I have ever seen, and I’ve been around a good while and have seen many bee’s nests.

Even though we shouldn’t put much stock in the bee’s nest part of weather predicting, it strikes me as possible that while snow won’t reach depths of 50 feet, it might still get far deeper than we have seen in a long time. But then again, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Wooly Bears
The namesake of this column, the wooly bear caterpillar, the immature form of the Isabella moth, has long been a noted weather prognosticator. These fuzzy little caterpillars are black on each end, with an orange band in the middle. The length of orange band represents winter and the two black ends are, respectively, fall and spring.

Folklore says that the length of each band represents the length of the season it stands for. So if a wooly bear has two short bands and a long, orange band, then look out, since a bad winter is neigh.

So then, what are we to think of the wooly bear I saw the other day? This one had two long, black bands and a short orange band. Does this mean that we’ll have a long fall, short winter and early spring? If so, then the wooly bear’s forecast contradicts that of the bees.

I don’t really believe bees or wooly bears. I think the bees just build their nests wherever it suits them, with no thought of the coming winter. And as per wooly bears, I don’t trust them. I’ve seen too many wooly bears that bore an entirely inaccurate winter weather forecast.

In the end, I don’t think any thing or any one can accurately predict weather very far in advance. Which places me in the wait-and-see category. And that seems a safe bet.