Winter weather: What does common folklore predict for this winter?

Packed snow can make roads very slippery. (WTOP/Kristi King)

WASHINGTON – As cold weather hits the area, many people are wondering just how cold it will get and how much snow could be on the way. Sure, meteorologists may help predict what’s to come, but some folklore could point to what winter will look like.

Friday on ABC7 News at 11 p.m., Doug Hill unveils his outlook for the 2013-2014 winter season. He’s not giving away too much, but he did offer us a sneak peek.

“People that like snow — I think they will not be disappointed this winter,” Hill says.

Last winter, the Washington area only received two inches of snow, far below the seasonal average. “A lot of people think we’re due,” he says.

Hill says devising his winter outlook involves analyzing large-scale weather patterns. “We look for a signal from the Pacific, either La Nina or El Nino. We look at signals from the Arctic Oscillation [and] the North Atlantic Oscillation. But they aren’t giving us any clues.”

This year, he says, none of these indicators are present.

The Climate Prediction Center relies on anomalies in global weather patterns to produce its long-range weather forecasts. The skill in predicting weather over several months is inherently low but doing so without clear climate signals such as El Nino further weakens a forecaster’s confidence.

As winter nears, a lack of atmospheric indicators has most forecasters stumped.

Science aside, there are other clues to the upcoming winter abound, at least according to common folklore.

Among the beliefs in weather folklore that indicate a snowy winter: thicker-than-normal coats and fur on horses and dogs, squirrels building nests higher in trees than usual, large quantities of acorns and spiders building larger-than-normal webs during the fall.

Hill also says that fatter-than-normal skunks, pigs gathering sticks and pine cones that are bigger than usual can indicate a rough winter ahead. It’s also believed that the seeds of a persimmon fruit can help predict the severity of the upcoming winter.

The length of the brown stripe on a banded woolly bear caterpillar is said to foreshadow a harsh winter — the longer the stripe, the milder the winter.


I found this guy in Rock Creek Park last month — no stripe. Does that indicate a doomsday winter or no winter at all? Maybe we need additional guidance.

Let’s turn to acorns to aid in this winter prognostication. An abundance of plump acorns can foretell the coming of a rough winter.


These acorns are awfully small and few in number. Could this mean we’re in store for another snow-less winter? Then again, they’re willow oak acorns — locally the smallest variety. Moving on…

They say if squirrels seem to be constructing their nests higher than normal, the coming winter will be white.

Squirrel nest (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

The squirrels’ nest above seems about normal height. Might we expect an average 15 inches of snow this season?

The seeds of a persimmon should help us crack the code. It’s said that if the plant embryo inside the halved seed is spoon-shaped, the winter will be characterized by heavy, wet snow.


OK, I admit it. This persimmon is store-bought. The sticker says it’s from California. I couldn’t find any persimmons, even after scouring the shoulders of Persimmon Tree Road near the Capital Beltway.

Tune into ABC7 News Friday at 11 p.m. for Doug Hill’s official Winter Weather Outlook.

Follow @WTOP on Twitter.

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