Weather Folklore: Animal Prognosticators

Weather Folklore: Animal Prognosticators
Weather Folklore: Animal Prognosticators
Yellow-billed cuckoos

Some weather-related folklore depends on animals to predict the weather. You are probably already familiar with the groundhog and the woolly bear caterpillar, but there are quite a few more animal prognosticators out there!

Can we rely on animals for an accurate forecast? Let’s find out.

  • If the groundhog sees its shadow on February 2, six more weeks of winter remain. If it does not see its shadow, spring has arrived.
    Fiction. NOAA currently estimates Punxsutawney Phil’s accuracy at around 50%, making him about as accurate as the proverbial coin toss.
  • Hawks flying high means a clear sky. When they fly low, prepare for a blow.
    Fact. Birds tend to fly higher in dry, clear, high-pressure weather and lower in humid, cloudy, low-pressure weather.
  • When cows are lying down in a field, rain is on its way.
    Fiction. Sometimes cows lie down just to chew their cuds and rest their legs a little.
  • Chickens cackle just before rain.
    Fiction. Any backyard poultry keeper knows that chickens cackle whenever they lay eggs.
  • Cats and dogs eat grass before a rain.
    Fiction. Cats and dogs will eat grass anytime they have upset stomachs.
  • The rain crow calls before a storm.
    Partly fact. A rain crow is a cuckoo, typically a yellow-billed cuckoo. These birds make a resonant ow ow ow ow on hot, muggy days, the kind that tends to breed thunderstorms. However, personal observation suggests that the cuckoo can occasionally be confused by high humidity without any accompanying rain.
  • Squirrels gathering nuts in a flurry, will cause snow to gather in a hurry.
    Uncertain. Many scientists discount this bit of folk wisdom, saying that the squirrel is just enjoying an unusually bountiful harvest thanks to favorable weather in the spring and summer. Others, however, claim to have used this adage with success. Perhaps squirrels are just naturally busy.
  • A narrow brown band on a woolly bear means a harsh winter. A wide brown band means a mild winter.
    Uncertain. Modern scientists typically agree that the woolly bear’s band is not affected by coming weather. The width of the brown band on a woolly bear is primarily determined by genetics and developmental stage. Incidentally, the number of developmental stages that an insect goes through depends on temperature and humidity.
Weather Folklore: Animal Prognosticators
Woolly bear caterpillar

So are animals reliable prognosticators? Sometimes, sometimes not.

As a general rule of thumb, a forecast based on only one saying should probably be taken with a grain of salt. When several phenomena pointing toward the same forecast are observed, however, the folk sayings may be worth noting.

Perhaps we would all be better forecasters if we were better observers of nature.

Sources

Audubon. “Yellow-Billed Cuckoo.” Audubon Guide to North American Birds. Accessed December 8, 2021. https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/yellow-billed-cuckoo.

Farmers’ Almanac. “Is It True That Cows Lie Down When It’s About to Rain?” Updated May 16, 2021. https://www.farmersalmanac.com/is-it-true-that-cows-lie-down-when-its-about-to-rain-8486.

Garriss, James J. “Signs of a Bad Winter: Squirrels, Onion Skins, and Other Folklore.” The Old Farmer’s Almanac. September 23, 2020. https://www.almanac.com/signs-bad-winter-squirrels-onion-skins-and-other-folklore.

National Centers for Environmental Information. “Groundhog Day Forecasts and Climate History.” Updated February 1, 2021. https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/news/groundhog-day-forecasts-and-climate-history.

Rubin, Louis D. and Jim Duncan. The Weather Wizard’s Cloud Book. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1989.

The National Cooperative Observer. “Any Truth to All Those Weather Lore Sayings?” Summer 2009. https://www.weather.gov/media/coop/newsletter/09summer-coop.pdf.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac. “Weather Proverbs About Birds.” November 12, 2021. https://www.almanac.com/how-birds-predict-weather.

———. “Woolly Bear Caterpillars: Winter Weather Predictors.” September 15, 2021. https://www.almanac.com/woolly-bear-caterpillars-and-weather-prediction.

Helpful Resource

The Old Farmer's Almanac Weather Notebook

The Old Farmer’s Almanac Weather Notebook
A good way to track the accuracy of weather sayings. Includes a daily dose of folklore. Read our full review.

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