George Little: Old-time forecasting techniques
"If it rains on Easter, it will rain for seven Sundays in a row.”
Grandma said that every Easter Sunday that a cloud blocked out the sun. Personal observation frequently replaced science before people could pull up Doppler radar on their cell phones.
Still, I kept track of it three different years after hunting Easter eggs in the rain. Every time, counting Easter Sunday itself, it rained for seven straight Sundays. That made me a believer.
Grandma’s definition of a rain was 13 drops on a brick. The National Weather Service says an official rain is .01 of an inch. The brick and rain-gauge measurements might be pretty close, depending on the size of the drops.
The outdoor wisdom passed down by our elders sometimes had little or no basis in fact, but it was always interesting. And, once in a while, random chance intersected with limited observation and created the belief that one event was the key to predicting the other.
Volumes of folk wisdom are devoted to predicting rain. All of them, along with any other one you might like to make up, could have “proven” to be true in the past few weeks.
“When the crescent of the new moon is shaped like a bowl, it’s holding water. Rain is on the way.” Uncle Stanley was big on that one, especially if it hadn’t rained for 40 days and 40 nights and the crops were dry.
Recently, I pointed to such a moon and told my fellow trapshooters it would be wet tomorrow. They looked at me like I believed the moon was made of green cheese. Their skepticism got washed down the crick the next day when it rained cats, dogs, fish and frogs. Sometimes, checking the forecast before offering a homespun prediction makes you look a lot smarter.
My keen powers of observation have yet to confirm that biting flies, chirping crickets, low-flying crows, cats washing behind their ears or the flowers suddenly becoming more fragrant have anything to do with an upcoming rain storm. I have heard all those theories expounded in small-town cafes and gas stations.
It is true that sound carries farther before a storm, because the humidity is higher. Smoke following the ground does not mean it’s going to rain. In fact, it’s just the opposite. High pressure keeps smoke close to the ground; low pressure lets it rise. Storms come from areas of low pressure.
A red sky in the morning is a good sign storms are on the way. The same is true of early morning sundogs, bright spots on either side of the sun.
“When the wind is in the east, hunting and fishing are at their least.” In addition to being a catchy rhyme, that bit of wisdom is right on the money.
I don’t know if lightning in January brings a flood in June, but that has always sounded to me like it should be true. This year, time will tell.
Contact George Little at email@example.com.
Springfield, Ill., State Journal-Register