Winter forecast: Possibly cold, possibly not

Friday, September 28, 2012

Late September brings welcome relief from this summer's scorching heat. Thank goodness. In these parts, it's always a pretty sure bet that the last half of September will be far more enjoyable than those weeks of summer.

The SEMO District Fair, which usually includes a good rain sometime during its weeklong run, pretty much escaped moisture, which would not have been unwelcome, considering our lingering drought.

But now it is time to look toward autumn and winter. This is the time the professional weather forecasters start laying out their long-range predictions: Snow. No snow. Frigid January. Moderate January. Early spring -- again. Late spring and freezing rains.

There.

I have pretty much summed up what you are hearing these days. Confusion, right?

Then it's time to look to more reliable prognostications. Remember Grandma's big toe? When it aches, run for shelter. And it was accurate. Most of the time.

One way to predict the weather on Killough Valley in the Ozarks over yonder was to find a persimmon tree. The watermelon-sized seeds in the mushy, ripe persimmons held the future, meteorologically speaking.

The trick is to split the persimmon seed and look to see whether it contains the image of a fork, spoon or knife. Each stands for a surefire weather forecast.

Now, folks. Some of you may think splitting a persimmon seed is no big deal. And it isn't, if you have an extra-sharp jackknife to work with.

See, you want the knife to be really, really sharp so when the blade slips on the persimmon seed it will slice cleanly through your finger, leaving no jagged edges of flesh. That makes it so much easier to put in stitches at the ER. This is one of the often overlooked tips to successful weather watching by way of never-fail persimmon seeds.

Another fairly reliable weather forecaster is the woolly worm, which can often be seen crossing Southeast Missouri byways. The color of the woolly worm's coat is a dead giveaway regarding the winter weather we can expect.

Of course, the woolly worm's heyday was when "byways" were one-lane mud and gravel pathways large enough for a wagon drawn by a team of horses. Stopping in the middle of such a road to examine a woolly worm posed little, if any, safety risk.

Dear readers, do not stop to look a woolly worms crossing I-55. The plain and accurate forecast you might derive therefrom will be offset by the semi whose trailer is loaded with fabricated steel headed for a major construction site. The driver of the semi, I am pretty sure, is not anticipating the woolly worm factor and will squish both nature's crawly creeper ... and you. A decent weather forecast just isn't worth it.

When I was growing up, it was easy to forecast the weather. All you had to do was stand on any hilltop and look west. Whatever you saw was coming your way. And you had an hour or two to get ready. This method, by the way, was 100 percent accurate.

Sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s, KMOX radio in St. Louis decided to pit the weather predictions of its own weathermen reading forecasts from the U.S. government's weather service against the picks of a mutt. Somebody at the station wrote predictions on slips of paper and put them in a Cardinal baseball cap. Each day the dog would sniff and drool in the hat and take out a slip of paper.

Yes, the dog was far more accurate than the weather service.

And the poor dog couldn't split persimmon seeds. So I don't know what his secret was.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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