Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Science, Folklore, and Weather Predictions

 When I posted about folklore weather predictions some time ago, I shared several traditional examples.  The ability to predict weather in Isaac Werner's time was limited, although he did buy "Dr. J.H. McLean's Almanac and Diary...Also Storm Calendar and Weather Forecasts by Rev. Irl Hicks, the 'Storm Prophet.'"  These weather predictors lacked the knowledge and technology of today's forecasters, although some of them purported to rely on "secret" charts.

Many early settlers, not only in Isaac Werner's community but also around the world, relied on folklore.  In fact, some of the traditional rhymes and folklore had a scientific basis, although those who relied on the traditional predictions may not have known anything about science.  Many of the predictions related to the activity of animals and insects, and farmers learned to watch the animals for signs, although they did not know the scientific explanations for what the animals did.  

Birds are particularly sensitive to changes in air pressure, but other animals also react to pressure changes.  If you pay attention, as air pressure changes sheep will turn their backs to the wind, cows will lie down, and cats may sneeze.

Credit: Lyn Fenwick

By paying attention to birds, certain assumptions can be made.  Swallows respond when barometric pressure drops; they will fly close to the ground where air density is greatest.  In general, low-flying birds are signs of rain, while high flying birds indicate fair weather.

One summer a swallow couple chose our upstairs porch for their nursery and I was fortunate to photograph feeding time.  Notice the mud nest on the side of a glass light fixture...quite an achievement, getting the mud to stick.

Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

There is an old saying that crickets can tell time, and as strange as it may seem, that saying has significant truth.  Because crickets are cold blooded, they have a chemical reaction to temperature, and their chirps relate to the temperature.  If you count the number of chirps you hear within 14 seconds and then you add 40 to that number, you will get close to the time.  If you do that several times you can get a closer average.  At least, that is what I have read.

Credit:  Lyn Fenwick
More understandable are the predictions possible from observing spiders spinning webs.  Spiders are sensitive to humidity, and high humidity causes webs to absorb moisture and break.  In low humidity, spiders sense that and spin webs because the chances for dry weather are good.

So, when our ancestors made up little rhymes about the weather that include animals and insects in their prediction, they may very well have been basing their verses on science without knowing that scientific explanations were the reasons for the activities of the animals.

I noticed a spider nest with dew on it and what appears to be the spider's hiding hole, either to jump out to seize prey or to retreat from the dew.  I could not resist photographing it.

Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

In his journal, Isaac Werner regularly recorded the seasonal flights of birds.  While he believed their flights north predicted the arrival of spring, and in contrast, their flights a the end of summer predicted the approach of autumn, he may not have connected the movements of birds to science.  What is certain, however, is how much he enjoyed the birds and how he looked forward to their arrivals each spring.       


The Blog Fodder said...

I did not know most of those. My dad's Uncle Joe told of an Indigenous man who forecast a tough winter becaue, "White man have very big woodpile" .

Grace Grits and Gardening said...

I love folklore and hearing about old wive's tales. I imagine so many of these predictors are rooted in weather nuances we modern-day folk are too busy to notice. True Story: My mother predicts snow by the throbbing in her big toe. LOL.