Monday, November 21, 2011

Predictions are Risky Business

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Predictions are Risky Business

Since time began predicting the weather has probably been a favorite pastime for humans. I can even imagine a caveman peering out his cave door and looking up to the sky and trying to estimate if it would be a good day for a hunt. Maybe it wasn’t quite like that, but weather predictions must have been among the first scientific observations.

Over time, these predictions became weather proverbs or sayings which were passed from one generation to another until they became accepted as fact. Many of those sayings that we hear today actually came from the area near the Mediterranean Sea and were even recorded in the Old Testament. Some proverbs often repeated in the Midwest actually originated in Germany and Sweden. Even Shakespeare wrote “If feet swell, the change will be to the south, and the same thing is the sign of a hurricane.” Wait a minute, Shakespeare?

The problem with depending on proverb is that they are not always wrong, but they are also not always right in all times and in all places. Many of them are not based on any kind of scientific fact and are founded instead on strange relationships---wolves and crops, sky colors and bad results, holy days and weather, cats and dogs and cattle, spiders and smoke, crickets and frogs, or rheumatism and rain.

But all of this concern about scientific accuracy does not detract from the fact that they are fun to consider and repeat. Many of them actually do have some basis in scientific principles.

Take the often repeated, “red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning,” which has to do with dust particles made more visible by the approaching high pressure. Others with scientific basis are “clear moon, frost soon” and “halo around the sun or moon, rain or snow soon.” Another intriguing saying is “a sunny shower won’t last an hour” and everyone knows that when that happens that “the devil is beating his wife.”

During this time of year, we look for signs that might tell us about the severity of the winter. I’ve heard people remark on the fact that the juniper, holly and other trees with berries are full this year indicating that the winter will be harsh. The fur coats of certain animals and the thickness of their tails supposedly indicates low temperatures for the season.

The indicators from the animals are some of the most fascinating. “If the bull leads the cows to pasture, expect rain; if the cows precede the bull, the weather will be uncertain.” “Cats scratch a post before wind; wash their faces before rain; and sit with backs to the fire before snow.” “Pigs gather leaves and straw before a storm.” “The louder the frog, the more the rain,” must lead to the descriptive phrase, “frog strangler.”

Whatever their origin and accuracy, these proverbs are part of the culture.

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