Appalachia Christmas Folklore

Interesting Weather Lore

Weather folklore from appalachia

My recent post on Ruling Days inspired Ethelene Dyer Jones to research the issue of weather folklore a little deeper for her weekly newspaper column. Ethelene has graciously allowed me to republish her outstanding article today as a guest post here on the Blind Pig & the Acorn.


Interesting Weather Lore written by Ethelene Dyer Jones

Today, with the weather channel easily available on television, and almost every newscast we hear interspersed with the latest information on the weather, we don’t have to rely, as our ancestors did, on weather signs and folklore. Yet how very interesting are some of the signs for predicting weather. How scientific these are is a matter of speculation. But for those of us who grew up with a Daddy who “watched the signs,” and was pretty accurate with what they revealed to him, we can believe these old-fashioned weather predictions were of much help in planning ahead to inclement weather, good times for planting to avoid frostbite to new crops, and to practice some of the habits of the animals and be better prepared for severe winters.

Just now we are in the “twelve days of Christmas,” the time between December 25 and January 5 (the “new” and “old” Christmas). The kind of weather we receive on these twelve days is believed by many to forthtell the kind of weather we will have in the year ahead.  For example, since Sunday, December 25 had cold rain, January 2012 will have cold days and much rain. Let’s see if this weather prediction comes to pass. Monday, December 26, was rather cold but sunny and fair. February, then, will bring sunshine and cold days. And beyond that I cannot go yet. But you might like to keep a “weather calendar” through January 5, write it down, and see how true to form the months of 2012 are to the predictive “twelve days of Christmas” as weather forecasts.

In much mountain and other folklore, these twelve days are called the “Ruling Days,” as they are believed to rule the weather for the year ahead. Some general rules about these days: if it rains during the 12 days, it will be a wet year, and if it is windy on Christmas Day, the trees will bear much fruit. If it thunders during these days, much snow will come in winter. If it snows on Christmas night, the crops will do well. A clear, bright sun on Christmas day fortells a peaceful year and plenty. And if at Christmas ice hangs on the willow, clover will be ripe for cutting at Easter. And some of these predictions are in rhyme, the better to remember them: “If Christmas on a Sunday be, a windy winter we will see.”  “As the hours of sun on Christmas Day, as many frosts will be in the month of May.”

Many signs in nature are natural predictors of weather. I can’t give you the origin of these, as most of them I heard my father talking about when I was a child. Others I’ve read in collections of mountain folklore and other sources. I share some of the most interesting with you here:

If berries and nuts are plentiful, a hard winter is ahead.

Wooly worms are natural weather predictors. In our area it’s better to look for the “tiger moth” wooly worm (scientific name Pyrrhactia Isabella) even though wooly worms are widespread throughout the United States and are studied for their portents for upcoming weather. If the wooly worm’s head is more black than colored, the coldest part of the winter will be in the early months of winter. The more black than brown on the wooly worm, and the wider the black stripe, the worse and longer the winter will be.

Just close observation of signs in nature foretell the weather, according to our ancestors.  Here are some:

A tough winter is ahead

…if cornhusks are thick and tight;

…if apple skins are tough;

…if squirrels’ tails are bushy;

…if berries and nuts are plentiful;

…if bees build their nests high in trees;

…if bark on trees is thick (especially on the north side)

…if animals grow thick fur.

And mnemonic devices, especially in the form of rhymed couplets, are familiar in stating weather lore.  Consider:

Thunder in the fall, a cold winter withal.

Flowers abloom in late, late fall, A cold bad winter surely will call.

Fruit trees blooming out of season in fall, a cold hard winter is certain to call.

Thick ice in November to bear a duck, The rest of the winter will be slush and     muck.

Cobwebs spun upon the grass, Fair weather will surely come to pass.

When leaves fall early, fall and winter will be mild;

When leaves fall late, winter will be severe and wild.

If a cool August follows a hot July, it fortells a winter hard and dry.

If squirrels gather nuts in a flurry, Snows of winter will gather in a hurry.

Months are used to predict other months’ weather, as:

A warm October, a cold February.

Much rain in October, much wind in December.

Full moon in October without a frost means no frost until November’s full moon.

A warm November, a bad winter.

Lightning in January, snow in April.

To round out this old-time weather lore, let us close with these:

Snow on Christmas, Easter green;

Green on Christmas, Easter white.

Clear star-filled night on Christmas Eve will bring a yield of good crops in next year’s harvest.


I hope you enjoyed Ethelene’s guest post about weather folklore as much as I did. Many readers commented they were going to keep a “ruling days” list to see if the 12 days do indeed foretell the weather month by month for the coming year. I’m trying to keep one too. Since today (Dec 28) was a cold windy day with a skiff of snow around the higher eleveations of NC I’m thinking April 2012 will be cold and snowy-as they say we shall see!

Leave Ethelene a comment and I’ll make sure she reads it!


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  • Reply
    January 7, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Well darnit, I got here too late to keep a ruling days diary. But it has been pretty mild around here until the last few days.

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    December 31, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    Isn’t she fun to read? I always enjoy Ethelene’s writings to Blind Pig and the Acorn. It’s a blessing to have this forum and to get writings like this at the punch of a few fingertips. Don’t you think it remarkable, Tipper, that not one of your writers falls short of excellent? Even technically! Ethelene typifies them.
    Maybe there is some weather prediction in what I saw one night. I know what I saw but I don’t reckon anyone else did. But it was real.
    It was October; some weeks ago, now. A cold night. Something startled me from my sleep and I had an irresistible urge to go to the back porch at look up at the sky. The glowing clockfaces in the early morning kitchen all showed 4:44 and the world was still all around. And I went out and looked up and there was a giant ring around the moon and at that very moment a jet plane’s contrail bisected the sky and was exactly centered on the moon so that the moon and the ring around the moon were divided, exactly divided by the flume.
    There must have been some omen, some revelation there but my wife was unimpressed and growled when I went back to bed and tried to tell her.
    I do know that 4-4-4 did nothing as a lottery number that week.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 30, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    Thank you Ethelene for sharing this weather lore with us. Some of the predictors I’ve heard but many are new to me.
    I feel certain that these weather predictors are every bit as accurate as the Weather Channel!.LOL

  • Reply
    Eva M. Wike, Ph.D.
    December 30, 2011 at 10:55 am

    Dear Ethelene & Tipper: Interesting weather details! Only one is in conflict with ‘our weather lady’ from up in Crossville, TN! Cobwebs spun upon the grass in the fall indicate heavy snows in the winter. This is not scientifically exact but folks have never disagreed with ‘our lady’ from the plateau!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    December 30, 2011 at 9:56 am

    Thanks, all of you Blind Pig & the Acorn readers, for your wonderful comments! The column was fun to write, and Tipper is a dear for postiing it to BP&A audience! The “Ruling Day” today is for June, and if predictions come true, June here will be cloudy and overcast, with some precipitation!

  • Reply
    December 30, 2011 at 9:31 am

    Really enjoyed Ethelen’s article. Sharing this post with friends…

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    December 29, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    Thanks Tipper, and
    I think I have heard variations of most of these…
    One you forgot…
    If the dog is under the couch with his paws over his ears…It’s coming a severe thunder and lightning storm…LOL
    just sayin’
    Thanks Tipper, and Ethelene loved this post…

  • Reply
    Nantahala Farms & Nursery
    December 29, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    Thanks for a GREAT article, Yes like so many more have said I am also keeping a journal, just to see if it all plays out like it should. My grandparents were big on the “signs”, just wished I had paid more attention to some of the things they said and did.

  • Reply
    December 29, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    All I know is, the weather’s pretty calm and green for this time of year in many places in the US. Personally, I feel like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, i.e. like when winter does hit, it’s gonna hit with a vengeance. We’ll see – won’t we. ;o)
    God bless.

  • Reply
    John Stonecypher
    December 29, 2011 at 6:56 pm

    A job well done thanks Ethelene.
    I have heard most of them.I do beleve we had better weather before tv ha ha. I do love writting. John

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    December 29, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    Tipper—Interesting how folks think about weather this time of year. Just last week my column in the Smoky Mountain Times addressed this very topic (along with a couple of others).
    There’s a world of interest in the folklore of weather. I own several books on the subject and years ago, for perhaps two dozen issues, wrote a little column on the subject for a magazine which I believe was entitled Country America.
    Jim Casada—Outdoors in the High Country for December 22

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 29, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    Good Stuff Ethelene! My Mother and Grandmother swore by all the weather signs. Me, I believe the red sky, the circle around the moon, the leaves turned up, etc. to predict the weather for the next few days but a year.. I don’t know. I’ll probably hibernate for the rest of the winter anyway so somebody let me know when it’s safe to stick my head out.

  • Reply
    December 29, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    my daddy kept track of things this way, but i have my radar saved to my favorites and the weather channel programmed on the TV and my hubby who loves all thing fishing, can read the sky and tell if it will rain or be windy. so i am set

  • Reply
    December 29, 2011 at 11:42 am

    I think Ethelyne has done us all a
    lot of research on weather folklore. When one can’t think of
    what to say in a conversation, you
    can always talk about the weather.
    I’ve heard a lot of those rhymes
    Ethelyne put down in writing and
    its nice to use this folklore that
    was handed down by our past

  • Reply
    December 29, 2011 at 10:29 am

    Great post! I have always loved weather lore.

  • Reply
    Melissa P (Misplaced Southerner)
    December 29, 2011 at 10:27 am

    Thanks to both Ethelene for explaining and Tipper for bringing us all this wonderful information! I remember my older kin talking about the Ruling Days, but never knew what they meant. I had the wooly worm thing confused (thought the wider the brown stripe the colder the winter – or maybe that’s just up here in Michigan – still not accustomed to the weather here). Great stuff!

  • Reply
    Pam Moore
    December 29, 2011 at 9:56 am

    Living in Florida has brought about some new signs for predicting hurricanes and tornadoes. I used to work in the 911 center, underground, and I would still go outdoors to look at the sky. I had millions of dollars of weather equipment at my fingertips, but the sky said some things the computers never did.
    I remember going outside and seeing a green sky to the west. I warned everyone that tornadoes were coming even though we had not received any official warnings. A tornado tore through the county compound and ripped the roof off of our building.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    December 29, 2011 at 9:15 am

    Thanks for the weather lore. I am trying to keep track of the days also, although here in South Florida, weather is very different. Yesterday, we had a cold snap came through – the high was about 70 and the low was a bone-chilling 56. I will be interested to see if April is unseasonably cool.

  • Reply
    December 29, 2011 at 9:04 am

    Wow! Very interesting.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    December 29, 2011 at 9:02 am

    So fascinating. I am for sure going to follow these 12 days and look for other signs as well.

  • Reply
    Uncle Al
    December 29, 2011 at 9:02 am

    Very interesting article. It will be even more interesting to “test” these theories. Even the Almanac isn’t always right. :o)

  • Reply
    December 29, 2011 at 7:39 am

    Thanks Ethelene for the weather folk-lore. I think Tipper has many of her readers following this olde tradition this year –perhaps between the two of you another olde-way will find it’s way back into some of our lives.

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