Monday, September 18, 2017

Predicting the weather

There is an art to predicting the weather. Even with all the newfangled satellites and meteorological equipment, predicting the weather is still unpredictable. 

Hurricane Irma was a head scratcher for days before making landfall. They knew the storm was massive and the general direction it was heading. But no one had a clue whether it would go up the east side of Florida or come into the Gulf. 

While I would never wish bad clouds on anyone, I couldn’t stand the thought of that beast coming into the Gulf and hitting Texas.  Hurricane Harvey had already made a mess of things there. I kept hoping it would curve eastward into the Atlantic and fizzle out. But that didn’t happen.

Our local meteorologist kept saying Hurricane Irma would go up the east coast of Florida. I’m not a weatherman but saw the storm ravish that state’s west coast.  The tropical storm passed through Empire, Alabama on Monday night. 

After the storm, I fretted about our friends who live in Florida. We’ve now heard from most of them. I got a text last night from my friend Brian who lives near West Palm Beach, Florida. They decided to weather the storm. After boarding up their home, stocking up on food, and water, they hunkered down. The text last night said they made it through OK, but the power is out, and they’re not sure when it will come back on there. 

The fascination with weather extends back through the ages. The Babylonians tried their
hand at short-term weather forecasts hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. Early civilizations understood a great deal about climate, but history tells us it was a crapshoot back then too. 

I remember Mr. Plunkett was a weather guru. He was our next-door neighbor in Sloss. One September I was sitting on his front porch with him and his two boys Joe and Johnny. It was late afternoon. He rocked forward and spat a stream of snuff into the red clay dirt and predicted that it would be a cold winter. During those days, weathermen rarely predicted rain until they heard it thunder.

But Mr. Plunkett would listen to barking squirrels, watch their activities.  He also studied the size of acorns to gather information before making his predictions. After careful observation, he would say, “It will be a cold winter this year.” Or, “This fall will be a wet one.” I wish I’d been smart enough to pay attention and see if he was right. He followed that up with, “If you don’t believe me, just read the Almanac.” No one argued with the Almanac in those days.

The best I can remember he was right on the money about half the time. His batting average was as good as those of weather forecasters today.

I thought about Mr. Plunkett today as Jilda and I did our morning walk. As we walked under the oak tree in the barnyard, she exclaimed, “Look at the size of that acorn!” Leaning over, I picked it up. It looked the size of a robin’s egg. I looked into the canopy trying to see if there was a squirrel up there. I rolled the acorn between my fingers like a marble. And I wondered what Mr. Plunket would predict for the coming winter.
Rick Watson is a columnist and author. His latest book “Life Goes On” is available on You can contact him via email at


  1. Ugh...looks like some spam up above. I think your neighbour is right and it might be a wintry winter...if I can say that without sounding blonde:) I'm glad people you know ended up aok with the hurricanes. It is quite the weather insanity lately.

  2. This winter will be very cold and lots of snow...somewhere.

    The weather people are much better than years ago, 2 or 3 days out they are very accurate, after that it is kinda iffy. I'll throw them a bone on predicting a hurricanes path, those things are like catching a Hoyt Wilhelm knuckle-ball.

  3. I have noticed that the weather boffins are pretty good on temperature. Rain? Not so much. I wonder why?

  4. My grandfather was good at observing things like your Mr Plunket. The old folks used to say that when the hornet nests were built low, it meant not much snow in the winter and when they were built high, there would be lots of snow.

    My husband found a hornet's nest on the ground and he found one high in a tree in the lane so he predicts that we won't have much snow on the ground but a lot of snow in the lane, haha.

    Hugs, Julia

  5. If the size of acorns matter, then our winter will be light. The ones falling here are quite small. They are bouncing off my metal roof and and make a lot of noise...sounding much bigger than they actually are. There's not much at all we can do about the weather but i always pay attention to predictions...nice to get prepared.

  6. I think our weather patterns are getting more extreme. I fear humans are affecting the weather. We probably aren't responsible for allo weather extremes but we're making things worse.

  7. When we lived in Western Maryland, it was the size of wooly bears that helped some locals decide how bad the winter would be.


  8. I love the hear the old folks forecast the seasons. They pretty much nail it. I just heard the other day that the farmers would count the number of fogs in August to determine how many snows will fall in the Winter. There are even some people that think we Humans are the ones that affect the weather. How crazy is that?

  9. There are so many weather indicators in nature. Unfortunately even those are not completely reliable.

  10. Lisa mentioned the fogs. One of our internet friends, Blue Ridge Boomer keeps us up to date with beans in a jar for the fogs..
    Yep weather predictions are a good guess imma thinking.

  11. There is no 100% certain way of predicting the weather


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