OFF THE CUFF

While it’s safe to say that forecasting weather is often difficult in places like the U.S. Midwest, which lies in the middle of gigantic continental land mass, but it’s probably also safe to say that predicting the weather isn’t easy anywhere else, either.

But difficulty aside, weather prognostication has pretty much always been and always will be a favorite on mankind’s list of things to do that are marginally effective at best. Whether it’s sailors looking at the color of the sky long before the advent of internal combustion engines or modern television meteorologists using fancy phrases to describe computer “models,” humans have always been prone to trying to figure out what the weather will be like tomorrow, three days from now or during an entire upcoming year.

Of course, the Farmers’ Almanac is the most famous source of that yearly forecast, which not surprisingly is usually about 50-percent accurate. But let’s face it: Knowing what the weather will be like over any 365-day period is just plain impossible, so a fourth-grader could design an equally accurate year-long forecast.

But let’s not forget that people also have believed for centuries that they could predict weather patterns using various natural sources. Maybe a couple of the best know versions are the size of the orange band on the “woolly worm” (a.k.a the woolly bear caterpillar) and the shape of the seed inside persimmon fruit, both of which are supposedly ways of telling what things will be like in the coming winter.

The Almanac itself likes to share that there are numerous other natural methods based on age-old folklore, some of which are kind of interesting, while others are just weird. Here are some of them (in no particular order):

•Thicker-than-normal cornhusks. What, is the corn storing up for a harsh winter? Obviously not, because it will be dead in the winter.

•Raccoons with thick tails and bright bands. Wait, there’s another way for a raccoon to look?

•Mice chewing furiously to get into your home. Don’t they like doing that regardless of the weather?

•The early arrival of crickets on the hearth. Never mind the early arrival, I’ve never had a late arrival of crickets on the hearth, because no crickets have ever arrived on my hearth.

•Unusual abundance of acorns. This might be a better way to predict a good deer hunting season than what the weather will be like.

•“See how high the hornets nest, ’twill tell how high the snow will rest.” So like, the hornets are expecting an 18-foot deep snowfall?

•Pigs gathering sticks. Wait, what?

Anyway, I’d say none of these methods (or the many others involving plant or animal life forms) are worthy of truly adopting as viable means of forecasting weather. Heck, even the National Weather Service doesn’t pretend to be able to predict on a long-term basis, and it’s probably the meteorological source most widely accepted as an “authority” on all things weather.

I say that because in an official document produced by the agency regarding “winter weather preparedness” and the “winter 2019-2020 outlook” for Missouri, one sentence made that abundantly clear. In a section marked “key takeaways,” we’re told that the temperature will be “near average to above average for December through the end of February.”

OK, fine; we probably shouldn’t expect below average temperatures, right?

But the following sentence is where the National Weather Service obviously just bails out on the long-term prognostication concept: “As far as precipitation, we have equal chances of below, near or above-average precipitation.”

Ya think?

Gee, thanks for helping me get prepared for what’s coming, and I forgive the redundancy.

For crying in the mud, our beloved fourth-grader could have come up with the same conclusion, but I’m guessing it was produced by someone with a degree who I’m sure pulls down a nice paycheck.

Oh well, we might as well consult the insect larva or fruit. Or better yet, just accept the fact that long-term weather forecasting is kind of silly.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald.

Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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