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Signs of Winter

Before there was a weather channel or a weather app for your smartphone, people looked to nature to predict the weather. Animals were considered reliable forecasters. If there was more orange than black on a woolly-bear caterpillar, the winter would be mild. More black than orange meant a hard winter was in store. If horses grew a thick coat early in the fall, winter would come early, with cold temperatures and lots of snow. The early migration of geese, ducks, and monarch butterflies predicted the same. And if the snowy owl arrived early, that was also a warning of a cold, hard winter.

On this date in 1909, an article in the Hope Pioneer alerted readers to signs for the weeks ahead – some of which farmers supposedly knew and heeded. They all pointed to more cold and snow as winter continued into the new year.

The first predictor mentioned was the pig. Since early October the tails of pigs were curled up very tightly. Presumably this was to prevent the tails from freezing, and was acknowledged as a reliable prediction. Woodchucks agreed with the pigs’ forecast. Ordinarily woodchucks dig burrows no deeper than four feet. But in 1909, the newspaper noted that “This fall they hired steam shovels and went down twenty feet or more, and then insisted on feather beds at the bottom.” The frogs had a similar plan. Instead of burrowing just a foot deep “This winter they have gone down five or six feet and have taken a supply of coal with them.” Okay, so there may have been a slight exaggeration regarding the woodchucks and frogs.

However, other signs also pointed to a rough winter. Migrating birds left North Dakota a full two weeks early. Potato vines and turnip tops wilted ten days earlier than was normal before a mild winter. Hens stopped laying eggs in November and had grown plumage thicker than usual.

Farmers started observing the signs in August to predict the coming winter. More fog than usual or a hot first week of August warned of cold weather to come. In 1909, they couldn’t turn on the Weather Channel, so all they could do was go outside to see what Mother Nature was up to.

"They all pointed to a cold and snow as winter continued into the new year."  

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Farmer’s Almanac. “20 Signs of a Hard Winter.” https://www.farmersalmanac.com/20-signs-of-a-hard-winter-479   Accessed 12/11/2019.

Hope Pioneer. “A Few Signs.” Hope ND. 1/14/1909. Page 4.

Thought Company. “Weather Folklore.” https://www.thoughtco.com/hard-winter-warnings-3444400  Accessed 12/11/2019.

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