Cats and Weather—The Folklore

August 17, 2019
Cat Nap
Source: Wikimedia commons

What is the origin of the phrase, “raining cats and dogs”? What do animals falling from the sky have to do with torrential downpours? Let’s explore!

You can blame this blog on my cat sprawling on my computer when I was trying to write on a rainy day. 

After struggling for territory, I started to think about cats and weather—specifically, the phrase “raining cats and dogs.” 

Can you imagine anything more improbable then raining cats and dogs or, for that matter, more uncomfortable?

(Then again, why is a keyboard a comfy place for a catnap?)

Raining Cats and Dogs

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.

Cats and Weather Folklore

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!

Related Content

Ever head of Cat Nights? This term harks back to the days when people believed in witches. 

This bit of folklore also gives us the saying, “A cat has nine lives.” Cat Nights began on August 17.


About This Blog

Are you a weather watcher? Welcome to “Weather Whispers” by James Garriss and until recently, Evelyn Browning Garriss. With expertise and humor, this column covers everything weather—from weather forecasts to WHY extreme weather happens to ways that weather affects your life from farming to your grocery bill. Enjoy weather facts, folklore, and fun!

With heavy hearts, we share the news that historical climatologist and immensely entertaining Almanac contributor Evelyn Browning Garriss passed away in late June 2017. Evelyn shared her lifetime of weather knowledge with Almanac editors and readers, explaining weather phenomena in conversation and expounding on topics in articles for the print edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well as in these articles. We were honored to know and work with her as her time allowed, which is to say when she was not giving lectures to, writing articles for, and consulting with scientists, academia, investors, and government agencies around the world. She will be greatly missed by the Almanac staff and readers.