Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Weather Superstitions
Nature Bulletin No. 373-A   March 14, 1970
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

Charles Dudley Warner, not Mark Twain, made the famous wisecrack -- Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it" -- when our U. S. Weather Bureau was in its infancy and reliable local forecasts were not available. There are still no accurate forecasts of what kind of weather we will have in the next 30 days, to say nothing of what will occur six months from now. That is important to the farmer. In many localities he gambles on certain signs and what an almanac predicts.

Since time immemorial, men have been trying to out guess the weather. Many local superstitions developed, some of which have come down to us in well-known rhymes. Some are logical deductions from certain signs -- such as smoke rising vertically from a chimney, indicating fair weather -- but most are pure superstitions. Many are still believed and stoutly defended in the more remote regions. A few are subjects for discussion even in our modern cities.

Most famous is Groundhog Day when the woodchuck is supposed to awake from his long hibernation, come out of his burrow and, if it is a sunshiny day so that he sees his shadow, go back to sleep knowing that there will be six more weeks of winter. It is generally observed on February 2nd but there are thousands of people in Missouri and Arkansas who regard February 14 as Groundhog day and who, if it is dark and cloudy, begin to spade up their garden patches.

In southern Illinois and the Ozark hills of Missouri, "goosebone" weather prophets examine the breastbone of a wild goose killed in autumn. If it is thin and rather transparent, that predicts a mild winter; it thick and opaque, a hard winter; if white, much snow; if reddish or red-spotted, cold but little snow. It is commonly believed that muskrats build bigger lodges and the fur is thicker on muskrats, raccoons, skunks and other furbearers before a severe winter. The woolly bear caterpillar is supposed to forecast a mild winter if its middle band of reddish brown is wider than the two end bands of black, and a hard winter if it is narrower. Such conditions among animals have natural causes but nothing to do with what the weather will be in later months.

There are similar superstitions that a frost will occur six weeks after we hear the first katydid; that tree frogs trilling, or a " rain crow" (Yellow-billed cuckoo) calling, predict rain; that bad weather is coming when we feel twinges of rheumatism of aching corns and bunions; that a red sunset or a rainbow in evening insure clear weather tomorrow; that a ring around the moon means a storm is coming and that the number of stars visible inside the ring tell the number of days before it will start.

Other very prevalent beliefs have some justification, such as the fact that sun dogs predict a cold spell; that train whistles sound louder and clearer before a rain, and that stormy weather is probable when the sky is mantled with clouds resembling a flock of sheep. However, the old rhyme -- "rain before seven, fair by eleven" -- does not always hold true; neither does the fact that chickens foraging outdoors, heedless of a morning drizzle, necessarily mean an all-day rain.

If the crescent of a new moon is horizontal, some old-timers say the next month will be dry because it holds water; if roughly vertical, 'twill be wet because the water will spill out. Others believe exactly the opposite, arguing that if the moon in " on its back" the month will be rainy and the hunter can hang his rifle and powder horn on its tips; if vertical, the water has been spilled out and he needs no such place.

Just remember this: "All signs fail in dry weather".

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