Silver Linings and Early Birds: Weather Lore in the Southwest Ohio Folklore Collection

By:  Molly Gullett

The ability to predict and foresee oncoming weather has long fascinated humans. Before advanced Doppler technology and the ability to capture satellite images, weather prediction methods were passed through generations by way of proverbs and superstitions. The Southwest Ohio Folklore Collection features such lore and shows the interesting ways that it continues to be cycled because of its (sometimes surprising) accuracy.

Almanac from 1818Jennifer L. Collins’ contribution to the folklore collection has a wide range of weather lore from Southeastern Indiana farmers who depend on the proverbs’ precision even in contemporary times. Even before almanacs became popular, easy to remember lines were most effective for passing the tradition of weather lore. A fairly common proverb of Southern Ohio is “Red sky at night, sailors delight, Red in the morning, sailors take warning.” This lore can be traced back at least to biblical times where it is paraphrased in Matthew 16:3 “And in the morning, It will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and lowring” (King James Bible).

Another adage related to rain prediction asserts, “When the moon’s as a sickle, the hunter hangs his horn.” It was believed that a “moon on its back” was a sign of rain and according to one of the farmer’s interviewed by Collins “the hunter don’t hunt when it’s rainin’.”

Wooly WormsFolkloric cues taken from the environment are also common. The wooly worm is considered a weatherman of sorts in southern Indiana and Ohio, based on the colored band surrounding its body. The larger the band, it is said, the more snow will fall. Animals are also indicators of weather: the thicker an animal’s fur, the colder the winter, and the higher a squirrels nest is situated in a tree, the milder the temperatures.

Superstitions are also closely linked with weather lore. Contributor to the collection James Whitney explained a ritual to bring rain in which one beats the water of a river with a broom and then shakes the broom at the sky. According to a local woman of Scottish descent, “it should start to rain in the next day or so.”

Weather lore can be accurate or mysterious. It may be no match for modern technology, but it is always quaint. A final and foolproof method of meteorology comes once again from Collins’ collection: “Take a piece of rope and hang it outside. If it’s wet, it’s rainin. If it’s dry it’s not. If it’s moving, the wind’s blowing.”

Wooly Worm image from Weather.com (http://www.weather.com/blog/weather/8_10913.html)

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