February 28, 2008

#01-078: Weather Lore - Part III: False Sayings

profile of man in a top hat holding up a large rodent triumphantly
Punxsutawney Phil, prognosticating rodent

Note: Some weather proverbs more or less hit the target--and some miss by a mile! Let's have a good laugh over some pretty foolish-sounding "words of wisdom."

Get Ready: Can you think of any old proverbs that are simply not true?

In Lesson #01-077, we saw some old-fashioned weatherlore that was generally true. Before the rise of science, people who watched the skies would try to connect events in such a way that they could predict the weather, and they invented little sayings to record this "wisdom." Often they were right, especially with short-term predictions. But they ran into real trouble when they tried to predict long-term patterns.

Every year, at the beginning of March, I remember an old favorite:

"If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb."

(Others say, "If spring comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb.")

This means if the weather is terrible at the beginning of March (or spring), it will be beautiful weather by the end. Modern records indicate there is no definite correlation between the two.

Here's another saying, which we discuss in Lesson #08-044. February 2nd is about halfway between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, near the center of possible dates for China's Spring Festival. Americans used to believe:

"If the groundhog sees his shadow on February 2, there will be 6 more weeks of winter weather."

Interestingly, this date actually is the beginning of Spring, though we now usually say it starts on March 21--six weeks later.

The idea of the groundhog--which lives underground--seeing his shadow is connected to whether the sun is shining. (It's not really a hog at all, but a kind of rodent, like a squirrel or a rat.) So, this saying teaches us, a sunny day in early February brings six more weeks of bad weather.


The "lion and lamb" saying and the groundhog myth both suggest that fair and foul will alternate. A similar--and similarly false--expression is this:

"A warm November is the sign of a bad winter."

Again, scientific records show no connection.

Here is another saying with the "magic number" of six weeks:

"The first snow comes six weeks after the last thunderstorm in September."

Once again, this is about an eighth of a year, or a half of a season. There is no science in this statement.

Here's another, rather bizarre, long-term "predictor":

"Onion skins very thin
"Mild winter coming in;
"Onion skins thick and tough
"Coming winter cold and rough."

I can't imagine how anyone made that one up!

Well, even modern weathermen are often wrong. Let's close with the truest thing any weatherman ever said, a little poem called "The Weatherman's Lament":

"And in the dying embers
"These are my main regrets:
"When I'm right no one remembers;
"When I'm wrong no one forgets."


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punxsutawney_Phil

Practice: Match the (imagined) "cause" with the (imagined) "effect."

  1. Bad weather at the start of March
  2. A rodent seeing his shadow
  3. Good weather in November
  4. The last thunderstorm in September
  5. The thickness of onion skins

  1. means the winter weather will be bad.
  2. means mild weather at the start of April.
  3. predicts the coming of snow six weeks later.
  4. predicts the type of winter we'll have.
  5. means winter will last six more weeks.

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for February 28, 2008

1 comment: