BELMONT, N.Y. — Today all we have to do to get the weather forecast is to turn on the Weather Channel on television, listen to the news stations or radio. So easy to know what the weather will be like today, tomorrow or a week from now. But what about our forefathers before all this technology was available? Weather predicting started in the mid 1800’s but was primitive compared to what we have today.
Some of our Founding Fathers were very interested in weather observations. Thomas Jefferson purchased a thermometer and barometer (one of the very few in the new nation). He noted that while in Philadelphia Pa. on July 4, 1776 that it was 76 degrees. George Washington also kept regular observations in his diary until the day before he died. After the invention of the telegraph it became easier to keep more accurate information across the country. In the beginning it was mostly volunteer groups across the country reporting until February 9, 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant signed into law a bill that would create the National Weather Service.
Just for the fun of it let us pretend it is the year 1855 and you are living in New York state on a farm. You need to be aware of the weather to raise your crops, care for your animals and to survive. What do you do? You rely on your observations of the world around you and all the things you were taught by parents, relatives and acquaintances. Some of these things were folk lore but a lot was true. Some of us even today as gardeners or farmers can tell what the weather will be like by using our observation skills.
Let us look at some of these observations and see how good they are.
Rain: Ants building high hills around their borough, red sky in the morning at sun rise, aching joints, tree leaves turned upward showing undersides on some trees, ants stop gathering food and birds stop singing, Nimbostratus clouds (rain clouds) hanging low and heavy in the sky mean rain is imminent, a halo around the sun or moon indicates moisture on the way, wooden doors and windows are harder to open, salt clumps and is harder to pour.
Fair weather: Red sky at sunset, birds flying high in the sky, the higher the clouds the fairer the weather, if there is dew on the grass in the morning chances are it will not rain, spiders building lots of webs outside means fair weather
Cold weather: Animals grow thicker than normal fur or feathers, more spiders than usual coming into home or barns, Cirrocumulus clouds (small, puffy in rows) means that cold weather is on its way, the larger the feed beds of beavers are means a cold weather, larger crops of berries and acorn drops.
Wind watching: Winds from the north usually bring colder weather, winds from the south usually bring warmer temperatures, westerly winds usually mean fair weather for some time, in winter calm air with clear skies can indicate an Artic High is bringing very cold temperatures, and east winds indicate poor weather
The Wooly Bear caterpillar the larvae of Isabella tiger moths is a favorite of people to use in predicting the winter weather. Supposedly a large dark band means a mild winter, a small dark band means a cold winter and an all-white caterpillar means a very cold and snowy winter. This has not been proven but I did see an all- white one a short time ago so I hope it is not right.
These are some of many different weather observations the average person can make, there are many more I didn’t mention. So now that we have some ways of predicting our weather let’s see if you can forecast the weather like our forefathers. Get your family, friends, grandchildren, or school children together for a fun project. Assign each person one of the above and then compare notes to see how closely your predictions were. Hopefully this article has given some food for thought and discussion. Incidentally all of these facts except for the Wooly Bear caterpillar are proven facts.
–Carol Sitarski, Master Gardener Volunteer
Cornell Co-operative Extension Allegany County
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