Nature’s forecasters


Photo by Daniel D’Auria

Every year, my dad and I look forward to the return of the Canada geese. Often, we’ll mark their arrival to Maryland with a phone call: “I heard them last night!” or “The geese are back!” My home lies directly in their flyway, and I like to stand in the backyard as they hurry noisily over me. It’s no wonder that one of my son’s first words was “geese.”

This year, I heard the first flock go over in mid-August. Curious as to whether early migration is a sign of a hard winter ahead, I did some online research. My efforts turned up little beyond myth. The most scientific information I could find came from a naturalist who wrote that geese migrate when their food sources—grasses, berries, roots, algae, seeds—become scarce, not in anticipation of frigid weather.

During my foray into the correlation between geese migration and weather forecasting, I came across a host of unproven but interesting natural weather predictors. The Farmer’s Almanac includes the following in its signs of a hard winter:

  • Early migration of monarchs
  • Early seclusion of bees within the hive
  • Early arrival of crickets on the hearth
  • Unusual abundance of acorns
  • Raccoons with thick tails and bright bands
  • Muskrats burrowing holes high on the riverbank
  • Spiders spinning larger than usual webs and entering the house in great numbers

While weather predictions based on nature are unreliable, nature can be used to observe the effects of weather. For example, dry leaves are crunchy when humidity is low and flexible when humidity is high. Pine cones close up in moist weather to protect their seeds. Feathery cirrus clouds indicate fair weather, while blanketed stratus clouds signal precipitation. When leaves rustle, wind is moving at a speed of 4 to 7 miles per hour. When large trees sway, wind speed is between 28 to 32 miles per hour.

Homeschool students can learn more about nature and weather in the Arboretum’s eight-week fall program The Science of Weather for Homeschoolers. As for the rest of you, consider using the fall season to prepare for a hard winter: in my home at least, the crickets have begun invading and the spiders are spinning some impressive webs.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator




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