I was recently privileged with an opportunity to give a presentation on weather folklore at the Symphony in the Flint Hills. Thank you so much to all who attended and all who made this event possible!
As requested by a member of the audience, here are the 10 weather folklore sayings for those who missed part of the presentation:
- If the birds be silent, expect thunder.
Fact. Birds become particularly active in foraging for food as the barometric pressure drops before a storm (particularly in the winter), but they take shelter shortly before the storm arrives. However, keep in mind that birds may go quiet at other times, such as during the heat of the day or when molting. For best results, we have to stay alert to nuances such as these when using weather folklore.
- The first three days of any season rule the weather of that season.
Fact. Weather is cyclical in nature, with some cycles as short as a week and others as long as 100 years. One cycle is about 90 to 120 days long, or roughly the length of a season. The first three days serve as a sample of what the current cycle holds in store. While this small sample cannot be used for precise day-by-day forecasting, it does offer a feel for how the temperature and precipitation will compare to average.
- Ringing in the ear at night indicates a change of wind.
Fact. Ringing in the ear can be caused by high wind speeds and low barometric pressure, conditions associated with an approaching front.
- When leaves show their undersides, be very sure that rain betides.
Fact. The increase in humidity that often precedes rain softens leaves and stems, causing them either to curl upward or go limp, allowing the wind to flip them over. Maple and oak are two native species to watch when using this saying. However, keep in mind that leaves will flip over like this after a rain softens them, as well.
- If gnats fly in large numbers, the weather will be fine.
Both. Gnats flying in clusters in a beam of sunlight, especially in fall, suggests fine weather. A swarm of gnats attacking and biting people suggests rain.
- The louder the frog, the more the rain.
Fact. Frogs require water for successful breeding and hatching. Therefore, the rise in humidity that precedes a rain event prompts the males to call for mates. (Be aware that during an extended dry spell, the frogs may wait to call until after the rain.) Also of interest, humid air conducts sound better than dry air, increasing the apparent volume of the frog’s call.
- When in the wind is in the south, the rain is in its mouth.
Both. It is true that a south wind blows ahead of a cold front. However, during a dry period in the Flint Hills, the south wind can blow for days without bringing any rain!
- The month that comes in good will go out bad.
Myth. This saying stems from humanity’s general belief in balance in nature. While we do know that there is balance in nature, with every dry period being balanced by a wet one and vice versa, the balance does not necessarily follow the calendar. Just as easily, the first few days of a month can point to a trend, as mentioned in #2.
- Distant hills appear to be near just before a rain. (The farther the sight, the nearer the rain.)
Fact. When the air pressure is high and the wind is relatively still, dust, pollen, and other particles collect in the air, scattering light and reducing visibility. As the air begins to move in front of a low pressure system, it starts moving those particles out, increasing visibility.
- When the horns of the moon point upward, there will be dry weather.
Fact. The phrase “horns of the moon” refers to the points of the crescent moon. Due to the tilt of the earth, these horns point upward in winter and tip over somewhat in spring and summer. Native Americans believed that the crescent moon formed a bowl that either retained water or released it onto the earth. While we know that this is not the case, it is true that the moon impacts earth’s weather due to its gravitational pull on the atmosphere, similar to the moon’s effect on tides. We also know that the horns do indeed point upward in winter (the driest part of the year in the Flint Hills) and tip downward slightly in spring and summer (the wettest part of the year).
After the presentation, the audience asked some great questions about weather folklore. We plan to share some of those questions with you in a future post.
Learn more about weather folklore, both myth and fact.