Winter can inspire feelings of delight or complete anguish. Some revel in the thought of cooler temperatures and snow. They see it as a great time to participate in outdoor activities such as cross-country skiing, ice skating, ice fishing, snowshoeing, and snowball fights. Others only think about the shoveling of snow, bad road conditions and the bitter chill of the wind. The latter are those who flee Iowa for warmer climates during the winter months.
As we head into December, we know winter is not far away. In fact the first astronomical day of winter (aka the winter solstice) is officially December 21 at 10:28 am. The winter solstice is the day with the fewest sunlight hours in the entire calendar year. Solstice comes from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still). If you have noticed, the sun has been rising and setting further and further to the south as we have moved from summer months. This decreases the length of daylight hours, and it will be at its southernmost path on December 21. It will then make its slow path north, but the path changes so minimally the days before and after that the sun’s path seems to stand still or seems unchanged.
This might lead you to believe that the shortest day of the year should be the coldest as well. Why isn’t that the case? It is true that the temperatures are cooling, but some heat from the summer and fall is still retained. The temperatures will continue to cool over the next couple months, and the coldest temperatures will be recorded in January despite the slightly longer days.
Now that we know when winter will begin, how do we know what winter will bring? Can nature be a guide for us? It can if you believe all the folklore and proverbs about how plants and animals can predict winter weather. Here are a few that you may or may not have heard before.
“The larger and stronger a beaver’s lodge, the harsher the winter to come.”
“If skunks are overly fat, a cold winter is coming.”
“As high as the hornets build their nests so will the snow be next winter.”
“Mushrooms galore, much snow in store. No mushrooms at all, how snow will fall.”
“When leaves fall early, fall and winter will be mild. When leaves fall late, winter will be wild. If leaves wither on branches in October instead of falling, an extra cold winter is in store.”
Weather folklore offers far from flawless explanations of weather patterns, but they are based on observations of those with a closer relationship to the natural world. Plus they are at least a little entertaining.
However you feel about winter, we hope you will find something to enjoy – even if it is just curling up by a warm fire or snuggling under warm covers on a cold winter’s night.