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CATERPILLARS AND THE WEATHER

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, which along with the Internet are indispensable sources of questionable information, bad weather is in store for us in February. That is not too insightful because February usually has bad weather.


How do the compilers of the Almanac know? One way is by looking at Woolly Bear Caterpillars and other creatures. Dr. C.H. Curran, curator of insects at the American Museum of Natural History studied these critters for 8 years. This particular bug, also known as the “woolly worm,” has 13 segments of either black or rusty brown. The color makes the difference--if the segments are rusty brown, the weather will be milder, but black segments mean severe weather.


I don’t know if I have ever seen a wooly caterpillar, but I have seen (and eaten) crickets, which can also serve as a kind of thermometer. Instead of their color, it is their chirp that tells us the weather. Just count the number of chirps in 14 seconds and add 40 and you will get the temperature. That’s right: 30 chirps + 40=70 degrees outside. I’m not sure what the formula is if you have crickets inside your house. Perhaps the square root of the chirps divided by your pulse.


Cows can also reveal weather patterns and that is important .They have been marginalized because they release methane into the atmosphere (you know how). Here are three things to observe about cows and the weather:

  • If a cow stands with its tail to the west, the weather will be fair

  • If a cow stands with its tail to the east, the weather will be sour

  • If a bull leads cows to pasture, expect rain

  • If the cows precede the bull, the weather is uncertain

There are still other animals that help predict rain, such as:

  • when dogs eat grass

  • when cats purr and wash

  • when cats sneeze, expect a lot of rain

  • when sheep turn into the wind

  • when pigs are restless

  • when cattle lie down in pasture

  • when horses stretch their necks and sniff

The Almanac claims that birds and insects are the best weather predictors, much better than the forecasters on your favorite TV channel. Consider these poetic observations:

  • Hawks flying high means a clear sky

  • Hawks flying low means a blow

  • Seagulls flying inland, expect a storm

  • Fowls resting in daytime, expect rain

  • Birds singing in the rain means fair weather in sight

  • Birds growing tame, means cold winter game

  • A crow flying alone is a sign of bad weather

  • Geese walking east and flying west means bad weather

There are also proverbs about the weather and “the Almanac says” scientists finally admit that some may be true:

  • A year of snow, crops will grow

  • Thunder in winter, snow 7 days later

  • A ring around the moon, it will clear soon

  • No weather is ill, if the wind is still

in Pennsylvania, a woodchuck known as “Punxstawaney Phil” has predicted an early Spring. Unfortunately, Phil only gets predictions right about 30% of the time, whereas long-range weather forecasters are successful about 70% of their time. The object is to see if Phil casts a shadow or not, a kind of “shadow ministry,” to foretell what Spring might look like. If Phil sees his shadow, bad weather is in store, but if not, then an early Spring.


Despite this gold mine of information, it is probably still wise to watch the wind and clouds and listen to your favorite forecaster. They have the advantage of radar and colored pencils. With magenta, red, yellow, and blue writing sticks, supplemented with arrows, curves and high-pitched language, you will know what is about to happen and if you should “take cover immediately.”


Karl Franklin


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