You can blame this blog on my cat sprawling on my computer when I was trying to write the weather blog.
Apparently my keyboard was the only suitable place in the entire house for a catnap.
After a struggle for territory, I found myself brooding about cats and weather—specifically “raining cats and dogs.” Can you imagine anything more improbable or, for that matter, more uncomfortable? Why would anyone even imagine it in the first place?
Some authorities tie the idea to Norse mythology. Odin, the Viking god of storms, was often pictured with dogs and wolves, symbols of wind. Witches, who supposedly rode their brooms during storms, had black cats, which became signs of heavy rain. Therefore, “raining cats and dogs” referred to a storm with wind (dogs) and heavy rain (cats).
Pluie de chats. Source: French Wikipedia
While the story sounds good, the expression didn’t become popular until the 1700s, when Jonathan Swift (author of Gulliver’s Travels) used it in a satire. He pictured snobby upper class aristocrats solemnly fretting that it would “rain cats and dogs”. Suddenly the saying caught on. Apparently, the English spent a lot of time chatting about rain and it was the latest hit phrase.
The cat/witch connection created a lot of superstitions. Many European cultures believed that cats could influence or even forecast the weather. In Britain, especially Wales, it was believed that rain was likely if a cat busily washed its ears. In Holland, cats could predict the wind by clawing at carpets and curtains. In early America, if a cat sat with its back to the fire, it was foretelling a cold snap and if it slept with all four paws tucked under, bad weather was coming.
Sailors were particularly superstitious or just so bored that they spent a lot of time watching the ship’s cat. If a cat licked its fur against the grain it meant a hailstorm was coming; if it sneezed, rain was on the way; and if it was frisky, the wind would soon blow. Some believed cats could start storms through magic, so sailors always made sure cats were content. (I’m sure the cats encouraged this belief!)
Source: Wikimedia commons
Another common legend was that when a cat stared out the window, it would rain. Since that’s where my cat stomped off to once I shoved him off the keyboard—I had better go close the car windows!
Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologist, is a longtime writer for The Old Farmer's Almanac. She is also editor of The Browning World Climate Bulletin and has advised farmers, businesses, and investors worldwide on upcoming climate events and their economic and social impact for the past 21 years.