Fulton column photo 112817

Wooly worms have long been considered a good indicator of how severe a winter will be.

By DAVID FULTON

For Rantoul Press

The color of a caterpillar, squirrels hoarding early in the summer, the higher in the tree a hornet’s nest — the higher the snow fall, abundance of acorns, overly fat skunks are all folklore predictors of the coming winter. Predicting the weather can be tricky, but here are some signs that may help.

Reading nature on your long autumn walk through the orchard, pumpkin patch or even on your Sunday hike can be a fun way to determine the upcoming winter weather with your family. According to the Farmers’ Almanac, animals and plants in nature have helped us predict winter weather conditions for centuries, but what are the specific characteristics that one should look for when trying to draw a conclusion for themselves?

Did you notice thicker-than-usual cornhusks on your sweetcorn? Folklore is handed down generation to generation, and these predictions over time were accumulated and compiled in the Farmers’ Almanac, which has long been referred to when making an extended weather prediction, or forecast. An ear of corn depends on warm weather to survive; creating a thicker coat for itself is a way to protect it from predicted colder temperatures.

The same is applied to acorns. Acorns that are growing on trees in high volume, also having thicker shells, help us determine an extra-cold winter ahead. Even noticing mouse activity (in your home) earlier than usual can warn you of an early arriving winter.

The most heard-of folklore we have all probably heard is the folklore of a woolly worm, or "woolly bear." The woolly bear caterpillar is in the tiger moth family, which is identified as black in color with an orange-brown band around its mid-section (the abdomen). As legend is told, the wider the orange-brown band, the milder the winter.

If there is more black color present than orange-brown color. This means there was a severe winter ahead. But be careful with the wooly bear folklore. There is another saying white caterpillars mean snow and black mean cold. I believe they actually darken in color with age.

Friday night lights and warm cider prepare us as the days of winter are approaching inevitably around the corner. As the days become shorter, farmers worked tirelessly to get their crop out of the field before winter weather.

To determine an approaching frost there are a few weather indicators to consider: How warm is it during the day? Is it windy? Is it cloudy? What is the dew point? A cool/cloudy day, still evening, and low dew point are a great recipe for frost. The difference between a light frost and hard freeze is a matter of 8 degrees.

A light frost is produced when evening temperatures fall below 32 degrees and water vapor condenses and freezes. A hard freeze is an accumulated four or more hours consisting of temperatures below 25 degrees. After a killing frost, it is possible to see temperatures spike again; this is known as an "Indian Summer." In the event if this happens, we will see temperatures rise and clear, warmer days usually cause the effect of an early fall-like environment.

Although we have referred to this year’s summer-to-fall transition an "Indian Summer," we will have to wait for that frost before classifying it so.

If one condition remains a constant from year-to-year, the best sign to predict how harsh or mild the winter will be, is the size of your energy bill such as propane and heating oil prices.

Want to learn more about reading nature’s signs? Visit: www.farmersalmanac.com.

David Fulton is assistant manager of Champaign County Farm Bureau