Weather Folklore and Winter Anticipation
It is a blustery, rainy day here on the mountain. According to the online weatherman for this area, it is a “ 0 golf ball day.” He ranks the weather each day from 1-5 golf balls, depending on how favorable the weather is for playing a round of golf, with 1 being unsuitable to 5 being perfect. Check him out at raysweather.com This is the first 0 day I can recall since we moved up here.
He is correct in that. The rain is coming in sheets and the wind is sustained at 20 mph and gusting to 50+. A good day to be inside our cozy cabin.
That led me to thinking about the winter to come and the folklore surrounding its prediction.
Since moving to the mountains of Northwestern North Carolina in July I have had a recurring conversation pattern with “locals.”
Them: “Where are you from?”
Me: “ Just moved here from Charlotte.”
Them: “ Are you a full-timer or a part-timer?” ( lots of folks live here in summer and head to Florida or other flatter, warmer places for the winter)
Me: “ We are living here full-time.”
Them: “ Have you been through a winter yet?”
That last question is uttered with an arched eyebrow and a knowing smirk. At first I thought it was amusing, but now I am beginning to wonder.
Me: “ Well we bought our cabin last January and came up every week until we moved up here full-time, so we have experienced winter.”
Them: “Uh-huh. Well, last winter was really mild. It’s usually much colder and snowier.”
Me: “ Yes, that’s what everyone says.”
Then I am treated to winter horror stories filled with days without power, wells freezing, no school for 6 weeks, and other apocryphal details.
So I have done a bit of research into the veracity of the claims. Some are true. Some are not.
According to the Internet, the average snowfall for our area is 23 inches, with January being the snowiest month with an average of 8. Snow can occur from October through April. ( There are some reports that snow is predicted for the middle of this week. We shall see.)
The average winter low temperature is 22 degrees and the winter high average is 45. The lowest ever winter temperature was -15 degrees. BRRR!
After combing the archives, I then began exploring some of the weather lore associated with our area.
One that I heard quite often this summer was that the number of foggy mornings in August corresponds to the number of winter snows. If this is true, I will need some higher boots. We had many, many foggy mornings in August. I did not count them, but I estimate that more than half our days began in fog. The lore goes on to state that you should place a bean in a jar for every foggy morning in August and then in winter take one bean out of the jar for each snow event. When the jar is empty, winter is over. Many folks swear by this method. Again, we shall see.
The other big weather forecaster up in this part of the world is the woolly worm.
The woolly worm is a large, fuzzy ,black and brown caterpillar. The body of this particular type of caterpillar has 13 segments which correspond to he number of weeks in winter. The color of each segment is supposed to predict the severity of the weather each week. Light brown indicates milder weather and black indicates colder and snowier weather.
There is a Woolly Worm Festival held each year in Banner Elk in which the official “spokesworm” is selected though a day long series of races up a three-foot string. The 40th anniversary festivities were held this past weekend. The winner this year was a worm named Aspen. His stripes indicate that we will have the following:
A cold, snowy start for weeks 1-3
Touch of snow week 4
Average temperatures, weeks 5-11 , with a little snow week 10
Cold, snowy finish for weeks 12 and 13.
This corresponds closely to the worms we have seen up here on our daily walks. They have had dark black stripes at each end and all brown in the middle.
At least the worms are in agreement.
Now on to the official forecast by raysweather.com, which is considered by folks up here to be quite reliable.
Snow forecast: 10%-15% less than long-term averages. Average snowfall is 23”, he is predicting 21.” Last year’s total was 9”.
He is also predicting that February will be the snowiest month and that temperatures will be at or slightly above season norms.
Not sure what to make of the predictions when taken all together, but I am prepared in any case. I have a new winter coat from LL Bean that is rated as being good down to -15 degrees, new fur-lined boots, silk long underwear, thick wool socks, and plenty of clothes for layering,
I have been stocking my pantry and freezer with beans, soup stock, soups and other cold weather stores in case we are snowed in for a while.
We also have a generator that will be getting hooked up in the next week or so, just in case we lose power. The propane and kerosene tanks are topped off and the heaters have been serviced.
So we are as ready as we can be.
I can picture some of the native Ashe County residents smiling and nodding, “Uh-huh, just you wait.”