How Herring Runs Predict Spring Weather

March 4, 2016
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 the favorite snack for Northern Europe and Minnesota, they are great little weather forecasters.

The secret to their success is that they are warm water fish that 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.

In 2012, 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. 

2012: First the offshore temperatures in the Gulf and Atlantic were hot; then springtime in the US got toasty.

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!

Of course, this doesn’t mean that this spring will be a repeat of the hot, pollen-filled spring of 2012. (Even the memory makes me sneeze!) But currently the water off the East Coast is very warm. 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 springtime 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. 

There is a lot of hot water off our East Coast. Will it make this spring hot? Source: NOAA/NESDIS


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.