The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

What Kind Of Winter Will It Be?

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1992

Issue: July-August-September, 1992

Mountain people used to have their own ways of forecasting whether a winter would be mild or harsh. They had a good reason to be interested. If a winter was a bad one, it would mean they would have a hardship taking care of the family and livestock. Would they have enough food to last? Would there be enough hay put up in the barn? Would they burn their supply of wood and have to spend hours out in deep snow cutting more? Would the winter be so severe that it threatened the lives of the livestock? Being prepared for all this meant their survival, so they got to be pretty good at reading the "signs."

Everyone has probably heard of the woolybear worm. It is a caterpillar with black bands on each end and a brown band in the center of its body. The three bands represent fall, winter and spring. If the band in the middle is big, it means a bad winter; if the band in the middle is smaller than the outer two, it means a mild winter. No one liked to find one that was solid brown. Here are some more ways to forecast what winter weather will be like.

If you count the fogs in August, they will equal the number of snows in winter. If fruit and nut trees produce a larger than normal amount of fruit, it will be a bad winter. If fruit has a thick pealing, the nuts a thicker shell, it will be bad. And if animals grow an extra heavy winter coat, the winter will be colder than usual. Farmers lived with nature on a first name basis. If nature was taking measures to ride out a long winter, then farmers knew they had better follow the example and do the same.