Caution: Signs of a Bad winter Ahead

squirrel3456With winter fast approaching in Colorado, I decided to conduct a little research while waiting in line for my pharmacy order, and read the Old Farmers Almanac.

For those outside the US, or anyone whose never had the delight of waiting 30 minutes for a prescription refill, the Old Farmers Almanac is an annual that has been published since 1818 (and probably contains much of the same information).

As a source for all things required of a homesteader living in the eighteenth century, the book is astonishing for its range of trivia, information and random crap that your grandfather probably talks about after one too many Makers Marks. Moon Phases and Astronomy, gardening and cooking, the Oprah-esque “Best Days” listing and of course, the Weather.  Because you can totally predict the weather for an entire year, a year in advance.  I mean this thing is specific (Denver, CO is outlined below);

“OCTOBER 2013: temperature 50° (1° below avg.); precipitation 1″ (1″ above avg. north, 1″ below south); Oct 1-5: Rainy, cool north; showers, turning warm central; sunny, cool south; Oct 6-8: Showers, cool; Oct 9-21: Showers, then sunny north; sunny south; turning warm; Oct 22-31: Scattered showers, cool.”

For the whole country, for the WHOLE YEAR. Yep.. its something.

If you ever wanted to plan when to hang those clothes out to dry, plant beets, harvest your hay or cook a pig..this is your source. So of course, I reviewed the long range forecast to see what I could expect for the next 3-4 months. I mean, what else is there to do in Rite Aid when you’re waiting except look at medical appliances and creams for things you don’t want to know about?

So here you have it kids. And it looks like its gonna be a bad one.

  • Winter will be much snowier than normal, with near-normal rainfall. The snowiest periods will be in late November, early and mid-December, mid- and late January, mid-February, and early March. (so basically the entire winter?) Temperatures will be below normal in the north and near normal in the south, with the coldest periods in mid-December, mid- and late January, and in early to mid-February.

But I didn’t want to take just one source at face value. I decided to embrace the way of the Almanac and look at some other ‘old-timey’ customs for predicting a bad winter. Boy.. was that an interesting hour on Google. Those American Indians were smoking something.

1. Squirrels begin gathering food in September-black bugs about in the fall.

Have you ever seen a squirrel NOT eating? I mean really? I think its in their job description along with taunting dogs, chittering at each other when I’m trying to sleep and getting hit by SUVs on a Sunday morning. And black bugs about in fall? Black bugs are about all year round as far as I can tell. Nope.. not giving me much there.

2. Woolly worm tell of a  bad winter if there are a lot of them crawling about he has a heavy coat, you see him crawling before the first frost, if he’s black in the front, the bad weather is coming

Ok, leaving aside the fact that I wouldn’t know a woolly worm if it sat on my head, how on earth am I meant to tell if he has a heavy coat vs. normal? Is this something that most people are familiar with?  Is everyone out there petting worms on a weekly basis? Plus ‘black in the front’? Does a worm even have a front? I’ve never noticed any discernible features on a worm ever.  Plus its tough enough to meet guys, I’m not going to start explaining to dudes I meet why I’m molesting worms with a magnifying glass.

3. Hogs gather sticks, straw, to make a bed.

Awesome. I can at least tell the front of a pig from the back, AND unlike squirrels they do seem to do a few different activities. I think I could figure out if she’s making a bed (especially if she breaks out the 750 thread counts). However accessing hogs in downtown Denver is a little tricky, especially if I’m looking for a live one. Next.

4. Birds huddle on the ground

I’m 41 and I’ve never seen a bird huddle on the ground. Unless it was dead. Am I missing something? Have I, in my iPhone induced oblivion, been stepping over huddles of birds in my daily walkabouts with the dog? I mean I’ve seen penguins huddle in the South Pole, and I’ve seen geese huddle in the middle of winter, but birds on the ground ‘huddling’ as a predictor of bad weather? Are they playing football? Man, I really am missing stuff these days.. I need to check my glasses prescription.

5. Muskrat houses are built big.

Putting aside the fact that I initially thought a muskrat was a type of gun, apparently (thank you Google), muskrats are an semi aquatic mammal that create homes by ‘pushing up mud’ from the base of a stream or marshland. These ‘push ups’ are home to an entire family (mom, dad and the kids) and if a long winter is ahead, they decide to throw caution to the wind and build out that 3rd bedroom. I totally get it – more space so that you don’t have to listen to Junior on his Xbox all winter long. Now if only I could find some marshland….in Denver. Hmmmm. I wonder if yuppies ‘popping the top’ of their Craftsman counts? Some of them look sorta weasle-y.

6. Hornets and yellow jacket nests heavier

I’m not going to be testing this one out. Not only do I not need to be near a hornets nest, but I’m sure not bringing out the scales if I find one. I’ll be leaving this one to the American Indians and those guys from Orkin.

7. And finally, squirrels tails are bushier

Man, those squirrels are a veritable 9News of weather forecasting. Putting aside the notion that my dog would just love a pet squirrel to play (gnaw) with (on), I’m not sure how I’d compare squirrel tails year from year. Does this mean I need to start collecting squirrel tails from Sunday morning’s roadkill? Wow, that’s going to be talking point at my next party. ‘Come see my collection of squirrel tails.. check out this one from 2008! Have you seen Mr.1979?’  Nope, this isn’t how I thought I’d be spending my time at 41 either…

So I think I’ll leave this to chance and if my dog does happen to attain his life-goal of catching a squirrel, I might put it aside for next year. Until then, I guess I’ll stick with the Almanac and go stock up on thermals until I manage to track down a Muskrat.

(are we sure its not a type of gun?)

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