‘In like a lion’ and other weather sayings

One of the problems of writing a week before publication is that it’s hard to be very topical. For example, I’m writing this on March 1, and you’re reading it on March 8.

See what I mean? Anything I write is on a seven-day delay.

So, anyway, March is coming in like a lion. It’s snowing big time outside. Quarter-sized flakes have been piling up since before dawn. Winter has returned. But if the old adage is to be believed, March should go out like a lamb, meaning that spring is in sight.

We thought it was in sight a couple of weeks ago when some of my friends were out playing golf and one of my neighbors was raking his lawn in the 60-degree weather.

I’m not much of a believer in the old-time weather adages – or are they superstitions? You know, like the groundhog sees his shadow so we’ll have six more weeks of winter. But which groundhog do we want to believe: Jimmie in Sun Prairie, or Phil in Punxsutawney?

Our lives are significantly impacted by the weather, and that has probably been true throughout the ages. Temperature, wind, rain, they all influence our daily activities.

As I said before, today (as I’m writing this) is March 1, Ash Wednesday, and we want to get out to go to church. Should I go out and shovel now or just drive over the snow and wait until later when the snow quits?

In the modern world, we have college-trained meteorologists and entire government agencies whose sole function is to predict the weather. Using high-tech computers and algorithms, they seem to be able to come very close in letting us know what the weather is going to be, sometimes even as far as 10 days ahead.

But 100 and 200 years ago, people didn’t have the Weather Channel and smartphones, so they had to rely pretty much on observations to predict the weather. This gave rise to a lot of the proverbs that have come down to us through the ages. They paid attention to animal behavior, wind directions, barometric pressure, clouds and clear skies to predict the weather.

I’m quite sure that my dad didn’t know the scientific reasoning behind some of his weather observations, but he would sometimes say, “It’s going to rain; the manure smells stronger today.” Or “The flowers smell sweeter” or “Grandpa’s pipe smells stronger.”

In reality, there’s a scientific explanation for observations like those. In moist, humid air, water molecules hydrate the aromatic molecules and make it easier for them to attach to the moist surfaces in our noses, which makes the scent stronger.

One of my mom’s favorite weather adages was “Red sky at night, sailors’ delight. Red sky in morning, sailors take warning.” So a red sunset meant that tomorrow would be a nice day, but a red sunrise would forebode a less favorable day. I’ve never really paid much attention to the results of those observations, but I’ve read that there is some scientific explanation for why the adage can be prophetic.

“Rain before s7, clear before 11.” Dad was a pretty firm believer in this one. He also applied this one to dew. If there was a heavy dew in the morning, he always believed it would dry up before 11, so he’d often plan his day around these circumstances.

“A ring around the sun or moon, means that rain will come real soon.” Dad used to say this, so I looked it up. I found out that a ring around the sun or moon is caused by light from those bodies (well, light doesn’t actually come from the moon, but you know what I mean) passing through ice crystals in the upper atmosphere.

These ice crystals have either been blown over the tops of high, approaching storm clouds, or from high cirrus clouds, which can be the first indication of an incoming low pressure system. So when you see a ring, prepare for precipitation.

So, anyway, by the time you’re reading this, the weather might have changed many times. You know what they say: In Wisconsin, if you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes.

Contact Roger VanHaren at rjmavh@gmail.com.