Appalachia Folklore Heritage

Snow Folklore From Southern Appalachia

Snow Princess
It’s Sunday night-and the weather reporters are in a tizz about the impending winter storm and it’s effect on the South. All factors indicate it will be another big snow for us. This winter I’m beginning to think the Snow Princess above has figured out how to call the snow and use it for her desires.

Granny and I usually get groceries on Monday morning, but since it looks like the roads will be snowy tomorrow we went early this morning. Granny and Pap’s little front porch was icy with the skiff of snow we still have from last Friday. I had to help Granny down the steps.

Chatter and I were sitting in the back-The Deer Hunter and Granny up front. Granny said “Well what do you think about this cold weather? There won’t be nobody stirring around this early but us, it’s too cold for most people.” She went on to tell us she was worried about Guitar Man his plane left Atlanta at 1:00 (turns out it didn’t, but he did get on one eventually) and Granny was worried he’d have to walk the 5 miles from the airport to the college. I said “No Granny he’ll be able to take a bus. If the airports are open they’ll be buses running too.”

I couldn’t resist teasing Chatter by whispering “See someday when you’re an old woman you can tell your grandkids-when I was a little bitty girl the winters were so bad my mother had to help Granny down the steps and my cousin had to walk 5 miles to college in 3 foot of snow.”

After we quit giggling over Chatter’s old lady voice, I started thinking about how I’ve heard lots of folks say the winters were worse when they were kids. I know I’ve heard The Deer Hunter tell the girls it snowed more when he was little than today. Yet this winter and last, we’ve got more than our fair share of the white stuff.

I remember big snows from my childhood. One cold and snowy winter Pap built us kids sleds. He split black pipe and put it over the runners so they’d go faster. I remember missing a week of school sometime during the 80s. And of course who could forget the Blizzard of 93.

There is old folklore to let you know when snow is coming-and even if it’s going to be a snowy winter. Things like:

  • A late frost means a bad winter
  • For every frost or fog in August, there’ll be a snowy day come winter (I could never remember to keep track of this one-and it doesn’t frost here in August)
  • 3 bad fogs in June or July means an early snow
  • If is snows crosslegged it’ll be a deep one (what does crosslegged mean-the way it falls?)
  • Regular occurance of low rolling thunder in the fall portends a bad winter
  • If smoke from the chimney settles on the ground it’ll be a hard winter
  • If it’s cloudy and smoke rises it might snow
  • The number of Days old the moon is at the first snow-tells how many snows there’ll be that winter (hmmm I should try to figure that one out)
  • It will be a hard winter if millers (moths) try to get in the window (don’t that happen every summer?)
  • If snow lays on the ground for 3 days it’s waiting for another snow (this one and the next 2 are the only ones I’ve actually heard folks say)
  • It will be a hard winter if there is more mast in the forest (nuts, berries, etc)
  • It will be a hard winter if animals coats are thicker than usual

(many of the saying above came from The Foxfire Book)


Even though I was only teasing Chatter, I know her and her sister will remember this winter and the snows that it brought. They’ll remember the white Christmas-and the mysterious tracks, and their friend Patricia. Maybe they’ll tell their kids it snowed more when they were little.

Do you think winters were worse in days gone by or that memories from childhood stand out ahead of the rest and make it seem like they were? Got any winter/snow sayings to add to the list of folklore?


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  • Reply
    Theresa Anderson
    March 13, 2017 at 10:07 pm

    Oh Tipper,
    This was great. I hadn’t thought about millers in a long time. No one knew what I was talking about the last time I mentioned them…everyone up north calls them moths… I grew up in Wyoming but my mom was from Missouri and they were millers at our house. LOL As for winters, They have been much milder for years now than when I was a kid, but, the last couple of them were worse than they have been in a long time, at least here in Oregon. (Of course, no one is prepared for much snow out here as it’s not a “usual” happening. I love snow and wind. I actually miss the wind in Wyoming…guess that shows how crazy I am! I think I’m going to try a batch of the Soda bread you shared recipe for and take it to week to get people in the mood for St. Patrick’s day and celebrating the spring time. I would like to have planted my potatoes this weekend, but it’s way too rainy and wet here. We already have 138% of our normal rainfall!!! I can always tell it’s going to snow by the smell. A friend of mine can taste it in the air… What’s really weird is that they said it was 65 degrees in Antarctica last week…warmest every recorded there. Weather is definitely being different for certain.

  • Reply
    A Facebook User
    June 19, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    I don’t care if it’s hot June in GA_I LOVED THIS!

  • Reply
    January 12, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    Oh how I love your snow photos! In Cyprus, snow is rare. We only get it up high in Troodos Mountains where it’s really freezing cold.
    As far as I remember, on the southern coast, it only snowed once – 15 years ago. The last time it snowed before that was in 1950, I think. But I wasn’t born then! 🙂 When I looked out the kitchen window, I thought a mischiveous kid had gone up the roof throwing bits of white paper. It took me a while to realise that the bits of white paper were…snowflakes!
    Today, however, I truly enjoyed our bright blue sky with only a few white clouds.
    Your Snow Princess, by the way looks gorgeous!

  • Reply
    Granny Sue
    January 11, 2011 at 9:17 am

    The day of the month the first measureable snow falls is supposed to be the number of measureable snows that winter. This year, our first measureable snow was December 1–I think it didn’t work this time! But it often is a correct indicator.

  • Reply
    January 11, 2011 at 8:21 am

    We have about 7 inches on the ground in the foothills of Georgia! Craziness that we’ve had 2 big snows already and its only January. We had freezing rain all night which means we have about 9 inches of ice now. I’ve been off work for 2 days…loving that!
    I’ve heard the “if the snow lays on the ground 3 days” thing about 4 times this week. lol. My cousin in law also says that if you see a ton of squirrels (more than normal I guess), then its coming because they know and they’re getting ready. And I’ll admit that the week before this one came, I even noticed how many squirrels were out and about.
    I hope its not too bad for yall up there.

  • Reply
    kenneth o. hoffman
    January 10, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    Tipper:you did well getting in provisions for the coming storm. we did the same up here in the great northwest,Carolina “wantabes” by the way we got 5in of snow on sunday, and tarheels west sedro woolley got zero. well blessings for now. k.o.h.

  • Reply
    January 10, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    I don’t remember any folk wisdom about snow from my year in North Carolina but I do remember being shocked at how excited the kids were when there was snow. I also remember waiting for the bus for a very long time before giving up. It never occurred to me that school would be closed for so little snow. That was also the year that I had a student as a driver. I tell my colleagues here that and they think I’m making it up! The only folk wisdom we have is that the warmer it is in early winter the worse the snow will be.
    Don – Well done! With today’s radios and cell phones I can call a parent to meet the bus if I need to change a kids stop. If I can’t reach anyone they go back to school. Times have changed.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    January 10, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    Hi again,
    I wanted to add…I was at my daugher-in-laws a few years ago and I said to one of the grandkids…”Shut the door or you’ll let the millers in!”
    “Who”,they said…so funny and an explanation about the moths had to follow…about weather and millers….
    First time I’ve heard the word “millers” in a long time..but we grew up calling moths “millers”..
    Thanks Tipper….

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    January 10, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    We are snowed in here near the Cumberland Plateau…cold too…
    We’ve made a couple of trips to the bird feeders…Cut up a leftover wrinkled apple and orange, added some cracked corn, sunflower seeds and suet….One old Mockingbird (Tn state bird) has got pretty hateful guarding the feeder even from the larger birds….
    The birds seem to flock and feed heavy in the pasture before a snow as well as heavy feeding at the feeders…When the Juncos move in early in the fall, it has meant for us that cold weather and or snow is on the way..
    It’s a good thing no wooly bear (in his right fuzzy mind) is out and about a tree root right now, ’cause these hungry birds would gobble him whole.. black fuzz and all!..LOL I wonder if all these bird die offs had anything to do with the impending bad weather…?

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    January 10, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    Another comment, Tipper…
    The Nat’l Park Service, in cooperation with NOAA, has been keeping weather records at several locations in the park for awhile, with pretty good records available since 1988. According to, the snowfall at Mt LeConte last winter (2009-2010) was more than double the average. Snowfall in February 2010 was a monthly record (52 inches). But then there was 53 inches last month (Dec 2010) for a new record.
    In February, 2009, I walked from Newfound Gap out to the Jumpoff on Feb 13, and there wasn’t a bit of snow on the ground (but there was ice on the north side of the mountain). But on April 2 of 2010, I walked some of the same section, and fell through packed snow to above my knee a couple of times.
    Early spring flowers in 2010 were a full three weeks behind the bloom time in 2009 on account of the cold winter and early spring. But once it started warming, it came on like gangbusters, so by May, the 2010 blooms had leaped ahead of 2009. Then it stayed ridiculously hot on through August. Let’s hope that this (thus far) cold & snowy winter isn’t a harbinger of an even hotter summer.

  • Reply
    lynn legge
    January 10, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    lol snowprincess.. thats adorable… and so is she..
    well i think it did snow more when i was younger… but again.. the seasons change and some winters are terrible and some are mild.. so i guess we remember which ones we enjoyed most.. me.. i loved the ones i had in connecticut .. where the backyards all connected and they would make a huge slide from everyones yard.. from the top of the hill to the bottom.. (id say about 10 houses long.. so pretty far)
    and the sweetest thing..was when we would go to bed… we could hear the adults out there on the sleds and trashlids… going down the hill..
    we here in pa are expecting a bit of snow in the next few days.. i sent my brother off to michigan this morning.. with about two inches…. and its fine with me.. as im not going anywheres. its always nice to stay home and just look how pretty it is out there.
    glad that you and granny are ok and got your shopping done.
    sending big ladybug hugs

  • Reply
    January 10, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    When I was a kid, we had some big snows and ice. Remember mama always made snow cream. Oh sooo good. Haven’t had any snow here for several years til last year and they were very light.Have heard of several signs to watch for,to tell what kind of winter we’ll have.I figure some of them are true. Now that I’m older,just as soon have sunshine. Hope ya’ll don’t get it any worse.

  • Reply
    January 10, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    Don-when I was in school-my bus drivers were teenagers too.But we never took any rides like you did!
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Music, Giveaways, Mountain Folk
    All at

  • Reply
    January 10, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    Clint-a skiff means a dusting of snow.
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Music, Giveaways, Mountain Folk
    All at

  • Reply
    J E Smith
    January 10, 2011 at 11:40 am

    Grandpa said it is snowing “crosslegged” whenever it was snowing side ways a good indication of being in blizzard conditions.
    Grandpa always said he could tell winter by the catipillars in the fall, if the dark side was in the lead a bad winter, light side a easy one.
    I seem to remember more severe storms when I was growing up. In 76, 77 going out on snowmobiles to rescue folks on the Interstate
    We have apx 8 inches on the ground now and suppose to keep snowing until early tomorrow morning.
    Hope you don’t lose power this time.

  • Reply
    January 10, 2011 at 11:05 am

    It seems like a kid we got a lot more snow. We lived in town (Jefferson City Mo). The park board would bring wood out and build us bonfires and then pack the snow down on the streets and we would sled ride into the park. We had so much fun!
    I remember one year Dad took me to the “shoe” store and bought me rubber overboots. The first time out I melted the bottoms at the bonfire. I don’t know who cried more, me or Mom. Money was tight. She said we couldn’t afford them from the beginning.
    Oh for the late 50 and 60’s again!

  • Reply
    January 10, 2011 at 10:49 am

    I was bloghopping and came upon your blog. I really enjoyed your music and posts. I am a retired lady from Kentucky who loves to cook. Your posts brought back a lot of good memories. Thanks, Judy

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    January 10, 2011 at 10:46 am

    Tipper–I reckon great minds think alike (or possibly brother Don would say that feeble minds follow parallel paths). Whatever the case, I just finished my weekly column for the “Smoky Mountain Times,” and the topic was “The Splendor of Snow.” Then, lo and behold, I come to the Blind Pig and see you too have snow in mind.
    I could add dozens of comments, but instead of boring everyone will just send you a Word file of my column. If you want to extract some of the weather folklore form it, have at it. I can tell you that a crosslegged snow is one where wind is in play, driving the snow flakes this way and that. The connection with a deep snow makes sense, because such winds are usually associated with strong fronts. You will see there is some crossover, but not a lot, between our columns. I concentrated on folkore of snow signs as it was offered in poetic form: “Snow hanging on the ground; it’s waiting for more to come around” or “Chimney smoke hugging the ground; there snow will soon be found.”
    Finally, I can’t believe you missed the opportunity to mention snow cream. Here’s a simple recipe:
    1 cup half-and-half
    1/2 cup sugar
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla
    3 quarts clean snow
    Stir gently and eat on the spot. For chocolate snow cream, add cocoa powder. For banana snow cream, mash up two overripe bananas and add them. For eggnog snow cream add a beaten egg and a bit of cinnamon sugar.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    January 10, 2011 at 10:15 am

    We’ve got about 6 inches on the ground here, Tipper. And it’s still snowing.
    Our trees had more mast this year and last year than in the few years before it. And we’ve had more snow last year and already this year than I can remember since moving here in 94. And I was noticing my horses have a very thick coat on this year. But the silly things still won’t go into the shelter we built. **sigh**

  • Reply
    January 10, 2011 at 10:02 am

    Tipper its truly been a winter of crazy weather even here in Florida. Hubby and I were driving back home from an outing yesterday evening and we drove through some sleet. Didn’t last long but definitely not Florida weather. Hope you guys stay safe and warm.

  • Reply
    January 10, 2011 at 9:54 am

    Skiff of snow…never heard that one. Some of the worst winters of the past 50 years around here (NE Ohio) happened in my youth during the ’70’s. ’77 and ’78 were the worst. That coincided with our school district starting busing. We would have to stand out at the bus stop to wait in the morning, then we would get dropped off at school before the doors were unlocked, so we had to wait outside there, too. Despite that, we almost never had snow days. Maybe 1 or 2 a year, max. Now, they keep running out of snow days before the end of the year, but it’s not because the weather is worse.

  • Reply
    January 10, 2011 at 9:50 am

    I have heard that if you see a wooly bear and they are all black than that means a bad winter. Well earlier this past fall I found a solid black wooly bear. I think that lore is correct. We are going to get another 7 to 12 inches tomarrown ight.
    Whitetail Woods Blog / Deer Hunting and Blackpowder Shooting at it’s best.

  • Reply
    Pat in east TN
    January 10, 2011 at 9:50 am

    When we moved to our farm in western NC 35 years ago it seemed like the winters were milder, although there were some mixed in that were to be remembered. My younger son and I were talking last night about how we’d get up early and sit at the radio listening for school closings .. so different from nowadays! Ha! Seems the past few winters have been extremely hard here in east TN, where we have lived for the past 8 years, just a hop, skip and jump from NC.

  • Reply
    Cheryl Soehl
    January 10, 2011 at 9:45 am

    Well, I have always heard that the more acorns, the worse the winter and this year I had more acorns than I can ever remember. In fact, I have not yet had a chance to rake them because of dithering about whether they can be composted. Someone online said to put them in a bag and run over them with the car to break them up and get them ready to compost. I’m still deciding if I can use them. Meanwhile the squirrels are getting really fat!
    We had at least four inches today and first thing I cleared and filled up the bird feeders and put out a pan of water on top of the ice in the birdbath. It did not take them a minute to start feeding and watering. Guess they need to load up with calories to get them through until the snow clears.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    January 10, 2011 at 9:44 am

    This is going to be long, Tipper – sorry!
    I got my school bus driver’s license in the fall of 1967, a couple of months after my 16th birthday. Back in those days in Swain County, almost all of the bus drivers were high school students.
    There wasn’t a route available when I first got my license, but in January, a boy who lived out on Alarka broke his collarbone, so I got his route. The first day I drove, we’d had a light snow – couple of inches during the night before. I’d never driven a car on snow, let alone a bus, but school wasn’t called off, so I took off. Fortunately, there was no trouble.
    My senior year, I drove another route – out the “Road to Nowhere” and up Lands Creek. One day it started coming down really hard just after lunch. By 1 pm, they’d decided to call off school. All of the bus drivers headed down to the garage to pick up our buses. When we got there, the garage had only been able to get chains on two of the buses. If it started snowing and looked like trouble, the garage would put chains on the buses in order of route difficulty. Unfortunately route was the third in line.
    So all the kids got on the bus and we took off. Normally there was a lot of chatter, but there was even more than usual because of the excitement. When we got to the railroad tracks in downtown Bryson City (where the bus always stops), I not only stopped, but engaged the brake, and hollered, telling everyone to be quiet. Now I was a less than intimidating looking fellow (entering my senior year, I was less than 5’5″ and weighed about 120 lbs), but for some reason, they all did get absolutely quiet – maybe they could tell how scared I was.
    There’s a steady, although not too steep climb, going up to Sherrills Gap, before going back down the other side towards Lands Creek. Normally, I had a stop on the way up toward the gap to let kids off, but I told them that they needed to stay on this time (I was afraid I’d never get the bus started again), and I’d let them off on the way back down.
    Well, amazingly, I got most of the Land’s Creek route done without a slip or a slide, but I did turn around about a half mile short of the normal location and asked the kids to walk the rest of the way – I knew I’d never make it driving.
    But on the way back out, when you get to the main road, you have to stop, turn left, and immediately go up the hill. After turning on to the road, I went up and down through the gears several times and didn’t get more than 100 yards up the hill – and was all over the road in the process. So I put it in reverse, got as good a run and go as I could, and went back down and up the hill on the other side as far as the bus would make it.
    Then I tried it again, this time with a little momentum when I started up the hill and made it. Whew!!
    Those poor kids that I’d made stay on the bus on the way in hadn’t made a peep, but they cheered when we got back up across Sherrill’s Gap. They got off and instead of taking the bus home like I normally did, I drove it straight to the garage and walked home. No way was I going to try going up another hill that day.
    Like I said, long story. Tipper, you might ask Chatter and Chitter how they’d take to riding on a school bus with a high school age driver. Hard to imagine these days, huh?
    Also, can you imagine a bus driver putting kids off before the normal dropoff point and asking them to walk a half mile through the snow?
    BTW, I left Tennessee yesterday to drive north up into Indiana and get away from the snow 🙂

  • Reply
    January 10, 2011 at 9:25 am

    if smoke from the chimney settles on the ground it’ll be a hard winter is my favorite, wish i could see that and the last one is the only one i have heard all my life, these are all new to me.

  • Reply
    Vera Guthrie
    January 10, 2011 at 8:17 am

    I also remeber Mama saying it was going to snow if the birds gatered up on the power lines.

  • Reply
    Vera Guthrie
    January 10, 2011 at 7:59 am

    The Persimmon seed. We would cut one and look at the shape. If it looked like a knife it would be “cutting cold” that winter. If it looked like a spoon it represented a lot of snow and a fork meant a mild winter.

  • Reply
    January 10, 2011 at 7:57 am

    I think what they mean by “Crosslegged” is when the snow doesn’t come down in a specific pattern; it seems to come down in a whirl from all directions at once. My Granny used to say that if it did that it would be a bad snow storm. She also said once a thunderstorm started in the spring if the rain suddenly changed direction it was an indication of of a bad storm most likely a tornado. I have experienced that.
    Bet this snow will be too deep for that bob-tailed dog this time!
    P.S. that “Snow Princess” looks just like the Deer Hunter!
    It’s cold

  • Reply
    January 10, 2011 at 7:49 am

    I hope the coming blizzard isn’t too hard on you, it’ll be here Tuesday afternoon, and I’ll be going out to stock up on groceries this morning!
    The winters around here were definately more severe when I was a child. We almost always had snow on the ground from November through April, and I remember quite a few blizzards, notably one in the mid-seventies. We had probably four feet of snow from that one. I remember two men walking down the street with a sled. They were walking to a store and stopped all along the way, asking the neighbors if they needed anything. Mom had them bring a gallon of milk. I don’t think anyone would do that nowadays.
    The past two years have been more like winters were in my childhood, with lots of snow, only I don’t remember it being so miserably cold back then. It’s 12 degrees with this morning with a windchill of 0.
    Up here, the old folks say that if the wasps build their nests closer to the ground, it’ll be a hard winter. My dad (another deer hunter!) says that if the squirrels get a thick coat in the fall that’s a sign.
    Your photos, as always, are beautiful. Your girls sure do favor you! Keep warm!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 10, 2011 at 7:39 am

    It seems to me that when I was young we had more snow than in more recent times. There were a few exceptions like the blizzard in 93. I can remember my mother saying that when snow stayed around for several days that it was waiting for more.
    The bigger change I see is the temperature changes. It used to be that families put meat in a smoke house to cure. To do that you have to have constant cool days. Now we have some cold days, some very cold days, then some warm days. Meat would go bad in that warm weather.
    I believe it is all about natural cycles in the weather that affect both summer and winter. What swings one way will eventually swing back the other way.
    I don’t believe the global warming theories are correct. They only serve to generate fear.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    January 10, 2011 at 7:39 am

    I always heard when I was a kid that hornets build their nests higher up if winter is going to be heavy.
    Never did any research to see how true it was.

  • Reply
    Dee from Tennessee
    January 10, 2011 at 5:27 am

    We’ve had more snow than usual this winter, but I do know that winters of many years ago were worse, so much worse. When we first moved “back home,” around 1959, we had many, many years of big, big snows. Now , it’s only an occasional year that we really have a big snow. A lot of our elementary school year age chlidren are just now really seeing/experiencing a “bad” winter because our winters have been so mild for several years.
    I just looked outside and our street is white, but I don’t think we’re going to get a lot of snow — it’s went farther south for once.

  • Reply
    January 10, 2011 at 5:22 am

    Oh my, I do think you are right, that snows from childhood can be way more significant. That and the obvious cyclical nature of weather trends. When we first moved out here to the Farm my oldest girls skated on the big ponds all the time. The younger two barely got any big pond skate time in before we started going for year after year of sad short freezes, they were lucky to be able to skate on the pasture puddles. Now Bet is skating on the big ponds again. I don’t think that those trends of weather really show up in the news, we have a tendency to think of past weather in terms of what the record on this particular day twenty years ago was.
    Funny about your list of weather predictors, we very much had summer fog, daily, durring July and August. But the horses didn’t put on much of a winter coat at all, chubby as all heck because the grass was still growing in October due to our really mild fall, but no coats. So when we got our pre-Thanksgiving snow and deep freeze the likes of which we have never had during that time of the year, the horses were not prepared to handle the cold like they usually are. Throwing that whole animal coat thing out the window for us this year.

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