SCORES & OUTDOORS: What will winter bring to us?

Basketball size bee hive, left, and its location in the tree. (photos by Roland D. Hallee)

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

OK, it’s mid-September and time for me to go out on a limb, stick my neck out, walk the tightrope – take your pick of the risk I’m about to take.

It’s my annual attempt at reading Mother Nature’s warnings, and predict the upcoming winter. I know…I know, it’s only September, but that season will be here before we know it.

I have been watching signs over the past couple of weeks, and I have to admit, I’m getting mixed messages.

My first observation are onions. If the skin is thin, we can expect a mild winter. The onions I have been peeling lately have had thin skins, thus that would indicate a mild winter. Another sign of a mild winter has been squirrels. They don’t seem to be in a hurry to gather nuts for the winter, another sign of a mild winter.

However, another farmer’s folklore signal is the squirrel’s tail. A bushy tail indicates a tough winter, and a skinny tail means a mild season. I have seen both. One day I noticed a squirrel with a really bushy tail, and later in the day, saw one with a less bushy one.

How about berries and nuts. Let’s examine that. I have wild berries growing in my backyard, black raspberries and choke cherries. My crop of black raspberries this year was minimal, and I have way fewer choke cherries than usual. Both signs of a mild winter.

Now, there are other signs for which to look. Are cornhusks thicker than normal? If so, a rough winter. I have not noticed much of a difference this year. Flowers blooming in late autumn are another sign of a tough winter. I don’t know if this qualifies, but when my rhubarb patch was pretty much finished in late July, I cleared the area, getting it ready for winter. While I was checking on my squash garden this past weekend, I noticed a new crop of rhubarb coming in. I have never seen that before. Also, the abundance of acorns at camp seems to be way down this year. Not as many as we’ve seen in recent years.

Let’s talk bees. Actually yellow jackets.

The old folklore states that bee hives constructed high indicates heavy snow fall. Closer to the ground means mild winter, snow-wise.

This past weekend, while camping with my family in Solon, we noticed plenty of yellow jackets around. On Sunday morning, we finally located the hive. It hung from a tree along the Kennebec River, it was the size of a basketball, and must have been a good 30 feet above ground, hanging over the river. Not a good sign, unless, of course, you’re a skier or a snowmobile enthusiast.

Another is leaves on a tree. If the leaves fall early, it signals a mild winter, but if they fall late, winter will be severe. Upon our return to camp from the camping trip, my wife and I noticed a large number of leaves on the ground. It seems, at least to me, that it’s a little early for that.

Finally, the wooly bear caterpillar. This one I can’t help you with. It is mid-September and I have yet to see one. I will keep a vigil on this, and perhaps report to you later. Remember, the wider the rust colored band on the caterpillar, the milder the winter.

According to the Old Farmers Almanac, weather folklore warnings of a harsh winter are based on La Nina. La Nina conditions for North America tend to be dry in summer and cold in winter, so if birds leave early, the leaves fall quickly, onions and apple skins are tough, and caterpillars are short, it may be due to the La Nina drought. A miserable winter will follow.

So, let’s review. I have presented 12 conditions on which to base my prediction. The score is: Mild winter 7, tough winter 3, and two undecided. It looks like a relatively mild winter. However, all the “weather experts” seem to say a rough winter. Maybe I’m just trying to justify a mild winter in my mind.

So, here is my recommendation. You’d better polish the shovels, and tune up the snowblowers, because to be a true Mainer is to be ready for anything. And we’ve all heard the old saying, “If you don’t like the weather in Maine, wait a minute.”

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

How many years did it take for Bill Belichick to win a Super Bowl as head coach with the New England Patriots?

Answer can be found here.


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