BARNYARD AND SKY; OLD-TIME FORECASTING (June 28/96)

I wouldn’t have been surprised if snow had fallen overnight when the thermometer plummeted recently. While putting on a sweater and a jacket in late June is unusual, most of us folks of the older generations have seen snowfalls before in this month. It seems to me there were June flurries sometimes in the last decade, but I’ll check that out later.

As for being surprised by the cold snap, no one should have been. With the weather channel’s continuous forecasts and weather updates being churned out on the radio every 10 minutes, how could anyone have been caught unaware?

Speaking of forecasts, isn’t it amazing how everyone is preoccupied with the weather. Almost an obsession, isn’t it? Seems to me the subjects people like to take about most, in order of preference, are the weather, themselves, the weather, their children, the weather, food prices, the weather, politics, the weather…

It wasn’t that way in our great-grandpappy’s day, by the way. The nearly total dependence on television and radio weather forecasts, that is. Great-grandpappy had his own methods of weather forecasting and they had nothing to do with flicking a switch and turning on the radio or TV. Great-grandpappy’s weatherman – or weatherperson if you prefer to be correct – was the barnyard, the sky and the creatures great and small that made up the natural world around him.

Great-grandpappy looked to the sky to determine the possibility of rain for example. Remember the poem you learned in childhood about red sky at night, sailor’s delight, red sky in the morning, sailor take warning? Great-grandpappy believed that most storms that approached came from the east and travelled west, so a red sunrise meant the possibility of approaching storm clouds. When the sky was red at sunset, the storm clouds had passed over.

To great-grandpappy, gray morning skies and soft-looking clouds meant good weather to come. But if the clouds were close to the horizon and moved swiftly, cool weather and rain were at hand. Rolled or ragged clouds signified heavy winds on the morrow. But great-grandpappy didn’t worry if the clouds had dark edges since, to him, this meant light winds only.

Some of great-grandpappy’s natural weather signs were accurate. You’ve probably noticed that frantic feeding activity of birds often presages a storm, especially in winter. Great-grandpappy’s belief that highflying birds meant good weather in the offing also has some truth in it.

Old-time weather watchers observed insects, birds and even farm animals to get a handle on coming changes. The following “weather signs” were, handed down from generation to generation and, until the advent of the modern day weatherman, were taken as gospel:

  • Dogs intently sniffing the air frequently; stormy weather coming.
  • Farmyard fowl huddling together and picking feathers; a drastic weather change.
  • Beetles and spiders suddenly becoming active; a drastic weather change.
  • Dry weather followed a heavy dew.
  • Flies bite harder and are more persistent on approaching storms.
  • Broken spider webs, stormy weather in a day or two.

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