Weather Folklore: What Leaves, Squirrels, Apples and Flowers Predict about Winter

January 29, 2019
Onion Skins

I sometimes wonder why I am in the climate business. According to folklore, those leaves you have to rake up will tell you all you need to know about winter.

Are your chrysanthemums really pretty? Get out the mittens.

The birds and bees are not only into sex; apparently, they are weather forecasters as well.

The competition for my job is horrendous.

Here is a sample of rodent wisdom:

Squirrels gathering nuts in a flurry,
Will cause snow to gather in a hurry.

In addition, a tough winter is ahead if squirrels’ tails are very bushy. (Are you polishing the snow shovel yet?)

Weather folklore claims squirrels know about winter! Source: National Park Service

Birds and bees are giving you hints as well. When birds migrate early or bees build their nests high in the trees, the winter is going to be awful.

See how birds predict weather.

See how insects predict weather.

A narrow band of brown on a woolly caterpillar means the same thing.

Flowers blooming in late autumn are not just pretty. They are warning you that winter will be grim. Source: Wikimedia

Plants are in the weather business as well. When leaves drop early, autumn and winter will be mild; but if they fall late, winter will be severe. Other signs of a bad winter are

  • Flowers blooming in late autumn,
  • Cornhusks are thick and tight,
  • Apple skins are tough,
  • Onion skins are tough and
  • Berries and nuts are plentiful. (That might be why the squirrels are so busy.)

Some of these are based on old-fashioned observation. La Niñas tend to be dry in summer and cold in winter, so if birds leave early, the leaves fall quickly, onions and apples are tough, and caterpillars are short, it may be due to the La Niña drought. A miserable La Niña winter will follow.

Some folklore is warning of a cold La Niña winter.

Other folklore is just based on the idea that you shouldn’t let your guard down. Lots of berries, nuts and flowers may be the sign of a lovely warm November. However, look out, winter will probably be awful.

As for the squirrels—ignore them. They’re just squirrelly!

Read more about how animals predict the weather.

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.