Before people had satellites, Doppler radar and all the other high-tech gizmos that we rely on to predict the weather, they relied on indicators from the natural world to help predict what the weather was going to do next.
In the fall, many people purchase hedge apples believing they can repel or control insects, spiders and even mice in the homes, basements and garages. What are hedge apples? They’re sometimes referred to as Osage oranges and among fruits, they stick out as particularly odd looking. They are about the size of a grapefruit; these green fruits have a bumpy, knobby appearance. In fact, that lumpy look is why some people call hedge apples “monkey brains.” The trees that they grow on are native to parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, though they can be found throughout most of the United States.
So how do hedge apples predict the weather? According to regional folklore, there are three things to look for. First, if hedge apples fall from the trees later than usual, this is said to indicate that the coming winter will be cold and snowy. The same is true if hedge apple trees produce more fruits than usual; winter will be harsh. If hedge apples are larger than normal, it suggests that winter temperatures will be colder while smaller hedge apples indicate a milder winter ahead.
Similar to hedge apple folklore, regions that have plentiful walnut trees often rely on walnuts to see what the coming winter will bring. There are two things that people look for. First, plentiful walnuts mean that the winter will be cold while fewer nuts in the trees mean a milder winter. If the number of walnuts leaves you uncertain, then get crackin’! Thicker walnut shells are supposed to be a telltale sign of a cold winter ahead while thin walnut shells mean temperatures will stay on the warm side. Just in case you don’t have a walnut tree handy, this bit of folklore works with hickory nuts, also.
Folklore has it that squirrels gathering lots of nuts “in a flurry” as a means to predict the weather, but turns out, where they’re building their nests is also very telling. There are two types of squirrel nests: the dens they build in hollow trees and clusters of leaves that can be seen among tree branches. Look for the leafy nests to help predict winter weather. Folklore says that when squirrels build these nests higher in trees, the winter is sure to be harsh, whereas lower nests or nests that are away from the tree’s center means the winter will be mild.
Our ancestors also observed the skins of onions thinking onion skins very thin, mild winter coming in. Onion skins thick and tough, coming winter cold and rough. So if you’ve harvested some onions from the garden, check the skins to see if they’re thicker or thinner; it doesn’t work with store-bought onions, which may have been grown elsewhere.
If you don’t have any homegrown onions handy, then bite into a locally grown apple, instead, because this observation applies to apple skins as well. Thicker, tougher apple skins are supposed to mean that a cold winter is on the way.
Much like the predictions that rely on an overabundance of fruit or nuts to predict what winter weather will bring, it is said that numerous pine cones in the fall foretell a long, cold winter. Scientists are doubtful on this point since pine trees can take three years to produce pine cones.
The interesting thing about pine cones is that they can also be used to forecast rain. In dry weather, pine cones stay open in order to drop pollen and seeds, but as humidity rises, the scales of a pine cone close up to protect the seeds or pollen inside. This happens because the pine cones scales absorb ambient moisture, expand and squeeze shut. In other words, if pine cones are closed, then rain may be in the near future.
The 2019 Ohio predictions are to expect a warmer, rainier winter than normal. Snowfall should hit seasonal average. The coldest parts of the winter will be mid-late December, early and late January, and early February. Snow will fall heaviest in early December, early and late January, early February and March. The spring months of April and May should be warmer than normal. Next summer will be cooler and drier than average, with heat spiking in late May, late June, early July and mid-August.
What signs are you seeing in your back yard?
Charlene Thornhill is a volunteer citizen columnist, who serves The Daily Advocate readers weekly with her community column Along the Garden Path. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.