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The True Winter Prognosticator: Nature

Written by on September 9, 2014 in Meteorological Musings
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For many years, both meteorologists and enthusiasts alike have been trying to nail down long range forecasts… most of whom have experienced both success and failures along the way. After all, seasonal forecasting is to be used as a guide, and is typically a snapshot of the overall pattern. But if you ask any seasoned meteorologist, they will tell you without hesitation that Winter forecasting is the most popular of all seasons to forecast to the general public, and highest in demand from their constituents and loyal followers.

You guys and gals reading this are no exception…

Today we have supercomputers that will collect a tremendous amount of atmospheric data. Collecting such data as the ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscillation), past analogs, sun spots and solar activity, teleconnections, strength and position of the SJT (southern jet)… and the list goes on and on. These supercomputers will gather data from both the troposphere (where we live and where weather occurs) and the stratosphere, which extends from between 30,000 feet and 160,000 feet above the Earth’s surface. Long range data is then run through these supercomputers, and a long range forecast, often volatile and variable, will be generated. The most commonly used by meteorologists are the CFSv2 (Climate Forecasting System, version 2) and the European Control Monthlies. Statistically, which comes as no surprise, the European control performs the best. But even the mighty ECMWF is much better in the near term rather than the latter. Due to copyright restrictions, we can’t show the Euro monthlies. But one example of the output on one of these long-range models we can show is below, using the current CFSv2 forecasts for both departure from normal temperatures (top image) and precipitation (bottom image) for the three month period of December-January-February 2015:


From the above for the EPAWA coverage area, the CFSv2 currently is forecasting normal to slightly above normal temperatures and slightly below normal precipitation the upcoming winter. This model flips and changes its mind more than we can count, so any seasonal forecast written off of this model right now would be fruitless. There were a few posts about this upcoming winter that went viral as well, but images like these are also useless without knowing all of the elements that make up a winter forecast from a scientific/meteorological standpoint yet.

This image came from a satirical website, known as Empire News, which adds a disclaimer to their website that reads “Empire News is a satirical and entertainment website” but of course many missed that. The image in question is below:


So we know the CFSv2 and Euro monthlies are highly volatile, and other winter forecasts out there right now are bogus or guessing at best, but what did we do before supercomputers were around? What did Ben Franklin do to make his weather predictions? How did Robert B. Thomas, original founder of the Old Farmer’s Almanac make such bold predictions in 1792? Certainly there were no computers back then… in fact there wasn’t even light bulbs invented for another 87 years.

Well there were many theories used by both, and both had different approaches in their methodology. But the most common denominator between both of them is they were observers. Observers of patterns, winds, barometric pressure, the sun and solar activity, and of course, nature. Some of these indicators of Winter are listed below. Many of these observations were first made by gentlemen like these, and many other farmers and enthusiasts that followed. When you observe nature now and through the Fall, take notice to some of these natural indicators and perhaps you can outsmart the supercomputers.


According to legend, the wider that middle brown section of the caterpillar there is, which is to say the more brown segments there are, the milder the coming winter will be. Conversely, a narrow brown band is said to predict a harsh winter. Woolly Bear caterpillar are commonly abundant in the fall in the eastern United Stated and in folklore have been an indication of the severity of the coming winter for many years.



Take notice to spiders this Fall… if there are more spiders than usual, and spiders are spinning larger than usual webs, it could be another sign of a cold and harsh Winter ahead. Spiders entering houses in great numbers is also said to be an indication, as they are naturally seeking a warmer environment to survive.



Squirrels will normally start gathering acorns and nuts in the Fall usually around the first time the first frost occurs. Almost as if that is their signal to start stockpiling for the Winter season. It is said that if squirrels are gathering nuts and acorns more frantically than normal, it is a sign of things to come and a harsh Winter ahead.



You have seen them every Fall migrating south for the Winter in their infamous “V” formations… it is said if their departure is earlier than normal, the Winter ahead is expected to be a harsh one. The same can be said about birds in general, as an earlier than normal departure is another indicator of a harsh Winter.



Farmers will tell you to look to corn husks and their thickness to determine how the upcoming Winter will go. According to folklore, the thicker the husks of locally grown corn is an indicator of a harsh Winter ahead. It is important to use locally grown fresh corn for this observation, as many grocery stores have corn shipped from locations outside the region. Judging store-bought corn may lead to a false positive or negative in this case.



Farmers will also tell you to look to the thickness of the fur of animals (cows, horses, dogs, rabbits, squirrels, just to name a few) to determine a harsh Winter ahead. The thicker the fur coat, the harsher the Winter will be. The thicker fur is their natural protection from the cold and allows the animals to endure the Winter season.



Pay attention to the trees this fall, not only for the pretty colors of Fall foliage, but also to determine when they fall. If leaves begin to fall from the trees early before they reach full foliage, it is a sign of a harsh Winter ahead.

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Heavy and numerous fogs during August has always been part of Folklore in predicting a snowy Winter ahead. Other weather folklore includes, but is not limited to: frequent halos or rings around sun or moon forecast numerous snowfalls; if September is hot, look for a mild winter at first, but the end to be very cold; mild Falls are followed by cold Winters; an abundance of thunderstorms during late Fall means a harsh winter; an early killing frost means a harsh winter to come.



Plants have also been linked to Winter prognostication… such things as heavy holly and dogwood berry production; excess numbers of acorns, hickory nuts and walnuts; numerous pine, spruce and fir cones at the tops of the evergreens; weeds growing taller than usual in the summer; thick onion skins; fruit trees blooming twice. All signs of a harsh Winter ahead.



Additional folklore from the Old Farmer’s Almanac: Woodpeckers sharing a tree; early arrival of the Snowy owl; early migration of the Monarch butterfly; thick hair on the nape (back) of the cow’s neck; raccoons with thick tails and bright bands; mice eating ravenously into the home; early arrival of crickets on the hearth; pigs gathering sticks; insects marching a bee line rather than meandering; early seclusion of bees within the hive; muskrats burrowing holes high on the river bank; “See how high the hornet’s nest, ‘twill tell how high the snow will rest”

If you are nature watching late this Summer and Fall, take notice to some of these items listed above. Only one or two of the items listed occurring may be coincidence, but several or many of them occurring at once may just be a sign of things to come. As much as we rely on computers and technology nowadays, it’s always a good idea to go back to the basics and roots… and do it like they did in the old days. Who knows… maybe you can outsmart the “experts” this Winter and prepare yourself for what’s to come.

We have a few takes on the upcoming winter from a science/meteorological standpoint, so you can visit either of these two blogs to get a feel of what we are looking at other than nature’s signs…

Early look into the Winter of 2014-2015 blog published last month: CLICK HERE TO VIEW

Autumn 2014 Outlook from EPAWA, released September 5th, 2014 – also talks about signs we are watching for: CLICK HERE TO VIEW

The “official” Eastern PA Weather Authority Winter 2013-2014 outlook is scheduled for release during the 2nd full week of November, 2014. Until then, happy observing!

Bobby Martrich
Eastern PA Weather Authority, LLC Proprietor


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