I was stumbling around in the middle of the night, lost in a wicked snowstorm on the Appalachian Trail and all I could see with my headlamp was a wall of white. I knew an A.T. shelter was a mile through the woods and the interstate was five miles in the other direction, but I was blinded by the snow. I pictured myself hiking in circles, eventually curling up in a ball like the man from the famous Jack London story.
My death would be humiliating, considering I was only seven miles from the nearest Waffle House. I never should’ve believed the farmer and his bean jar, I thought.
For as long as people have wondered if they should bring an umbrella, there have been folksy ways of predicting the weather. That famous ground hog, the stripes on a wooly worm, the shape of persimmon seeds—all of that folklore we have used to forecast long-term weather patterns. Some farmers insist the number of fogs in August foretell the number of snows in winter. They put beans in a jar for every fog they count, then go on the local news and say it’s going to be a dry winter.
Take it from me: You should not make backpacking plans based on the number of beans in a farmer’s jar.
“Most long-term weather predictions are just old wives tales,” says Corey Davis, a climatologist with the Climate Office of North Carolina, which studies the validity of weather lore. “There’s usually not much scientific basis for long-term prediction myths.”
However, folklore surrounding short-term weather predictions may be more legit. The shift in barometric pressure that precedes a storm also has an immediate affect on the natural world. You just have to know what to look for. Here are four pieces of weather lore that you should actually heed.
#1. You can tell the temperature by the number of cricket chirps you hear.
“A number of studies have shown this to be true,” Davis says. Count the number of cricket chirps for 14 seconds, and add 40 to the total number and you’ll get the temperature outside. Crickets chirp slower when it’s cold.
#2. “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.”
This one’s accurate if you’re in a place where weather systems come from the west, Davis says. A red sky appears when dust particles are trapped by high barometric pressure. If you see the red sky at sunset, a high-pressure system is moving in from the west, so the next day should be dry. If you see the red sky in the morning, the high pressure has already moved east, taking the good weather with it.
#3. “When a halo rings the moon or sun, rain is approaching on the run.”
According to NOAA, a halo forms around the moon or sun when ice crystals at high altitudes refract light. Those ice crystals are a good indication that precipitation will descend in lower altitudes, particularly in warmer months.
#4. Cows huddle together, seeking comfort before a storm.
The verdict’s still out on this one, but Davis thinks there could be some truth to these animal-based storm predictions: “Animals can sense low pressure systems, which bring storms, long before people can.”