Thursday, April 17, 2014

Isaac and the Weather

An almanac Isaac used
As a Kansas homesteader learning to farm in the sandy loam soil of the prairie with weather different from the Pennsylvania farms and weather of his youth, Isaac Werner depended on both almanacs and folklore to help predict the seasonal weather patterns.  In locating books that Isaac owned in his personal library, I was eager to include the specific almanacs Isaac owned and used frequently.  You can only imagine how excited I was to find a 1892 McLean's Almanac with the Storm Calendar and Weather Forecasts of Rev. Irl Hicks--an example of the very publication Isaac was almost certain to have owned!  I could hardly wait for it to arrive so I could read the forecasts Isaac would have relied upon, and when it came, it was in perfect condition, its cover pictured at right.

The joke was on me, however, for although that cover is in English, if you look carefully at the lower right-hand corner, you will see the word "GERMAN."  All of the pages inside the almanac are published in German!  Isaac was raised in the Pennsylvania Dutch country, and in the early pages of his journal, written in 1870-1871, he occasionally writes short passages in German, so it might be possible that Isaac owned a German language almanac.  However, I'm sure that the almanacs he picked up in St. John to pass around at the Farmers' Alliance meeting would have been in English.

Not everyone trusted the storm predictions of Rev. Hicks, but the almanacs also illustrated phases of the moon, predicted eclipses, and other information, and Isaac continued to rely on the weather predictions in his almanacs as one source to consider.

In April of 1889, he recorded in his journal that nine of his roosters had begun crowing the previous evening, which he interpreted as a sign of changing weather.  This is consistent with the folklore that "When a rooster crows at night there will be rain by morning."  Isaac also saw a good season for hatching toads as a prediction of a change in the weather, and he wrote in his journal about a trip to St. John with his early harvested potatoes loaded in his wagon, during which there were so many toads hopping in the wagon tracks ahead of his horses that he could not avoid crushing some of them.  He was perplexed as to why they chose the road for their exercise, but he did feel that the abundant crop of toads predicted a weather change.

However, during a droughty period he wrote that the usually dependable signs of rain, like frogs croaking in the evenings and gnats and mosquitoes being particularly bad, had not brought the rainfall that was needed.  Perhaps this quote from Alice Hoffman would have been better suited to Isaac on both accounts:  "When all is said and done, the weather and love are the two elements about which one can never be sure."

If you missed the blog about folklore weather predictions posted 4-3-2014, you may want to read it now. 

1 comment:

The Blog Fodder said...

Meteorologist Tim Ball said that for long range forecasts one should by three or five newspapers and take the best two of three or three of five since none of them were accurate anyway.