Talking About the Weather

mammatus clouds

“When clouds look like black smoke, a wise man will put on his cloak.” Explanation: Thick clouds laden with large droplets of water look darker than the fair-weather cumulus clouds.

“When chairs squeak, it’s about rain they speak.” Explanation: Wooden chairs will absorb moisture from the air when the humidity rises, which causes them to squeak.

“If salt is sticky and gains in weight, it will rain before too late.” Explanation: Salt tends to draw moisture from the air. If the humidity is high, as it is during or preceding rain, salt will soak up this atmospheric moisture and clog the saltshaker.

Do you have a favorite “weather lore” saying from your grandparents, the multi-generational farmers down the road or one you’ve made up from your experience of weather in years past?

From all accounts, scientific and otherwise, we’re in for a hum-dinger of a winter. In our area, we expect the onset to be about the middle of December (sorry can’t remember where I pulled that from) and in the Northeast, if predictions hold, it will be a “winter to tell your grand kids about.”

In preparation, I’ll be bringing the second wood ring over from the barn and put it on the front porch to give us another two days of wood without going out in the drifts or the ice–one or both of which we might see soon.

I’ll find the YakTraxs for our shoes and get them into the glove box of the car, remembering the December 5 ice storm of two years ago when it was so slick that, when the car went sideways in the road on the ice, we couldn’t even walk to get help. (HINT: these things make a very thoughtful xmas gift for your northern friends and family.)

I’ll bring home a couple of gallons of gas in the red plastic 3 gallon can for the generator, just in case. And if I don’t use it in two months, put it in the car gas tank and start fresh. I’ve learned the hard way not to let gas go stale over winter–in or out of the mowers, tiller, string trimmer and such.

At any rate, pay attention to those old adages that remain with us because there’s more to them than quaint notions.

“When the bees (yellowjackets) build nests in the ground, there’s a hard winter coming ’round.” If that’s the case, we’re in for a corker!

Find more weather lore here.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Red sky at morning, sailor take warning,
    red sky at night, sailor’s delight.

    At least I think that’s how it goes.

  2. In regard to Colorado weather: if you don’t like the weather wait a few minutes. Yesterday it was 65 and sunny and it’s cold and snowy today.

  3. So did the yellowjackets build nests in the ground? I have a lot more respect for old time ways of judging the weather several weeks out than computer models.

    The “red sky” jingle that I’ve heard is slightly different: Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning; red sky at night, sailor’s delight.

    It’s been much cooler than I can remember in recent memory (20 years?) here in South Florida. Not that I’m complaining!!