How Herring Runs Predict Spring Weather

March 26, 2021
Herring Fish

Herring. After they forecast spring weather, you can have them on toast! 

USGS courtesy Jack Randall, Bishop Museum

Herring—they aren’t just for eating. Besides being a favorite snack for northern Europe and Minnesota, they are great little weather forecasters. See how these fish predict the weather!

Spring’s arrival doesn’t only bring flower buds and blossoms. It also brings the herring run! These small silvery fish return from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and swim against the current in local rivers and streams to reach the area’s freshwater ponds. 

Herring are schooling fish and members of the Herring Family–Clupeidae–a family that includes other oily, small schooling fish such as anchovies. Their “oil” is rich in healthful omega fatty acids and is the source of their flavor. Plus, they’re a sustainable fish source. 

Thousands of herring will “climb” up a fishing ladder in the springtime, spawn, raise babies, and return to oceans in late summer or early fall.

Herring and Weather Forecasting

The secret to herring’s “forecasting” success is that they are warm water fish that only swim north in springtime.

First the water gets warm, then they migrate north. About the time that you hear reports that they have arrived, the heat from the water flows inland.

Several years ago, for example, the herring arrived north about six weeks early. So did the warm spring weather, encouraging gardeners to start planting five to six weeks early. Other Atlantic sea animals arrived early as well. Seals, who like to munch on herring, arrived early in New England and cheerfully began to deliver their pups early as well. 

Scientists have known the relationship between herring and warm water and it has really been helpful. You see, the Scandinavians LOVE pickled herring and have over 500 years of fishing records. By going over these records, scientists have learned when the Atlantic was warm and when it cooled off. Herring – weathermen, historians and lunch!

Does this mean that early warm-ups in spring will also be a repeat of the above-average pollen counts in 2020, 2018, 2017 and 2016? Perhaps but the rel reason we’re seeing above-average years for allergies has more to do with the rising average temperatures—which are also leading to longer allergy seasons. 

After a cold February, the Spring outlook calls for warmer-than-normal temperatures across most of the nation over the next month. See the Almanac’s Spring Weather Predictions.


Image: NOAA three-month spring forecast is similar to the Almanac’s long-range prediction. Credit: NOAA.

In March, New England volunteers typically watch to see when the herring arrive off the coast. As they say, “You know spring has sprung when the herring run.” If they arrive early, so does spring weather and typically the weather becomes warmer than normal. Indeed, New England natives used to collect the herring and start planting, using three fish as fertilizer for every five seeds. 

So, now you know. If there is something fishy about this spring’s weather, the herring will warn us!

About This Blog

Mike Steinberg is Senior Vice President for Special Initiatives at AccuWeather Inc in State College, Pennsylvania. He is also a member of the National Weather Association and the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society.