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Woolly Bear Caterpillar. Wikimedia Commons photo  

Is it true that you can tell what kind of winter lies ahead by looking at the bands on a woolly bear caterpillar? More....

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- by Bet Zimmerman

Those who work or play outdoors tend to spend a lot of time monitoring the Weather Channel.   If you’re a farmer, your livelihood may depend on an accurate forecast.   If you’re a mountaineer, your life may depend on it.

Photo by Scott Harwood.  Spiderweb.

Some believe that a spider in the middle of his web means fair weather. If wind or rain are coming, he may retire to something more solid. Photo courtesy of Scott Harwood - click for larger version. See more of Scott’s photography at www.veryalive.org/photos.htm

Unfortunately, weather can be chaotic and unpredictable.   Factors affecting weather are complex.  They include wind speed and direction, moisture, air temperature and pressure, and clouds.  Add in latitude and longitude, terrain, proximity to water, seasons and solar radiation, and you can see why it is so hard to know what awaits.  Of course, it is easier to predict what will happen in the next 48 hours than it is to do a long range forecast. 

Humans have been watching the weather forever. Over time, some fairly reliable weather wisdom has evolved.  Some has a basis in science, and may be almost as good as a computer model.  Other lore is less reliable.  For example, Punxsutawney Phil's behavior on Groundhog Day over 112 years has been wrong about 61 percent of the time (Source: StormFax Weather Almanac.)  Research shows that the bands on woolly caterpillars predict nothing.  However, animals do react to environmental signals such as barometric pressure that associated with changing weather, and can hear sounds we cannot.

According to USA Today “Sayings pertaining to forecasts for coming seasons are entirely without foundation."   Some classics persist anyway, and just may offer us a hint of what is to come.


  • When a thunderstorm approaches, dogs and pigs may get restless and agitated; rabbits may sit on their haunches looking in one direction with ears twitching; and toads may head for water.  Cats may get frisky when high winds are likely. 
  • When the cows are lying down, rain will come around.
  • Animals grazing with their head into the wind indicate a fine day.  When their tail is to the wind, plan for rain.
  • When fish keep low and are reluctant to take a hook, temperatures are likely to be high.  When rain is imminent, fish may ripple and splash on the surface.
  • When exceedingly bushy-tailed squirrels are busy collecting big stores of nuts in the fall, we might be in for a severe winter.


  • Bees do not swarm before a storm.
  • If ant hills were high by July, a snowy winter is nigh.
  • Hornets' nests high in the treetops may signal a mild winter.  If their nests are closer to the ground, prepare for a harsh winter.


  • When swallows fly high, the day will be fine.
  • Seabirds, stay away from land.  We won’t have good weather while you’re on the sand.
  • Birds may roost early and feed heavily (swarming your feeders) before rain or snow.
  • If a cock goes crowing to bed, he’ll certainly rise with a watery head. 


  • When leaves show their undersides, be very sure that rain betides (especially true for poplars and sycamores.)
  • When dandelions and daisy flowers close up, be on the lookout for bad weather.
  • Onions grow thick skins when a hard winter is coming.


  • Red sky at night, sailors delight.  Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.
  • Dew at night, next day will be bright.
  • Near ring, far rain.  Far ring, near rain (referring to the moon’s halo)
  • Gray mists at dawn, the day will be warm.
  • Rain before seven, fine by eleven.
  • A sunshiny shower won’t last half an hour.
  • When the wind is in the East, ‘tis fit for neither man nor beast.  When the wind is in the West, then the wind is at its best.
  • Few twinkling stars foretell good weather.  When stars huddle, the earth will puddle.
  • If the rain comes down slanting, it will be everlasting.
  • Rain from the East will last three days at least.

Other bits of weather wisdom include:

  • When smoke from a chimney or fire falls instead of rises, expect rain and storms.
  • If snow hangs out in ditches, it is waiting for more.
  • If you have rheumatism or corns, aches and pain mean rain.

By the way, even though Phil lives in Punxsutawney, PA, the movie Groundhog Day was filmed in Woodstock! (Illinois)


References and More Information:


Originally published in the Villager newspapers on December 4, 2009


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