12 Signs of a Bad Winter: Acorns, Onion Skins, and Weather Folklore | Almanac.com

12 Signs of a Bad Winter: Acorns, Onion Skins, and Weather Folklore


Will this winter be warm and mild or snowy and cold?

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The weather-predicting business is a tough one. How do you know if the winter will be exceptionally snowy? Is it going to be a cold, long winter? According to folklore, all you need to do is look at the squirrels! Or measure the thickness of onion skins! Let’s take a look at signs of a bad winter according to weather lore passed down through the ages.

Winter is coming! How do we know what the conditions will be? First of all, check out the new Almanac winter forecast, released each year around Labor Day. 

What Do the Squirrels Know About Winter?

The squirrels offer up some impressive rodent wisdom as well. 

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

That makes sense. If winter is going to be cold, you better store up more food!  In addition, a tough winter is ahead if squirrels’ tails are very bushy. Even squirrel nesting patterns tell us how cold a winter will be. Nests higher in trees suggest a colder, snowier winter; nests located lower in trees suggest a milder winter.

Squirrels gathering nuts in a flurry,  Will cause snow to gather in a hurry. weather folkore graphic with house in snow with snowy trees

The Birds and the Bees

In this case, knowing the “birds and the bees” is about closer observation of nature. As with squirrels, when birds migrate early or bees build their nests high in the trees, the winter is going to be awful. The old saying goes:

See how high the hornets nest, 
‘twill tell how high the snow will rest.

Larger spider webs are also signs of a bad winter. Learn more about how insects predict the weather)

The Famous Woolly Worm Weather Prediction

How about the woolly worms? Ever seen those fuzzy-wuzzy worms cross the road in autumn? The furry bands of brown and rust on a woolly caterpillar will tell you if the upcoming winter will be cold.

“Are your chrysanthemums really pretty? Get out the mittens.” Even the flowers know! 
Source: Wikimedia

Food Folklore: Onion, Apple, and Corn

Then there are the onion skins! Folklore claims that thicker onion skins can signal a cold and snowy winter.

Onion’s skin very thin, 
Mild winter coming in; 
Onion’s skin thick and tough, 
Coming winter cold and rough. 
–Gardener’s RhymeSame with tough apple skins!

Other plants and trees also give cues about rain and cold weather if you observe closely. 

  • Like onions, thick skins on apples signal a bad winter.
  • And thicker than normal corn husks indicate a harsh winter, too.
  • Flowers in bloom late in autumn indicate a lousy winter. 
  • When leaves drop early, autumn and winter will be mild, but if they fall late, winter will be severe. 

Weather Lore and Science Go Together

Some of these are based on old-fashioned observation. But some go back to science. 

Interestingly, weather folklore warning of a harsh winter is based on La Niña and El Nino which are natural climate phenomenon related to the temperatures of the oceans. So, it’s a little bit of art and science!

  • La Niña conditions tends 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.
  • El Niño conditions (winter 2023) typically result in wetter-than-average conditions from southern California to along the Gulf Coast and drier-than-average conditions in the Pacific Northwest.

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, weatherwise, winter will probably be awful.

Now, let’s check out the 2023–2024 Winter Weather Forecast from The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

About The Author

James J. Garriss

With an academic background in international business, James is a writer, editor and researcher for Browning Media LLC, helping to present accurate climatological projections. Read More from James J. Garriss