Nature’s Way, An Understanding of Weather Lore and Proverbs


In stock


John Wendel

60 pages, $12 cover price

ISBN: 978-1-59948-395-5

Released: December 2012


John Wendel
Ever since John was in second grade he had a fascination and a passion for weather, forecasting and other natural phenomena. Hours were spent looking out the window during thunderstorms as lightning lit up the sky or watching snow cover the park that was across from his house. The wilder and stormier the weather was, the more he enjoyed it. John tested his parent’s patients during the evening newscast because he wanted to see what each meteorologist was forecasting. It was a bit tougher back then because remote controls were not invented yet and someone had to get up and turn the knob to the change the channel.

As John grew older he noticed that whenever he walked outdoors the first thing he did was look up at the clouds. Even when he played baseball in high school he spent a lot of bench time staring at the billowing clouds over the field. He didn’t mind when a game got rained out because then he could watch the storm move in. His high school guidance counselor steered him toward math and science which lead him to Northern Illinois University’s Meteorology Department where he obtained his Bachelor of Science Degree in Meteorology.

John’s first job out of college was at WSAW-TV a television station in Wausau WI where his main responsibility was radio forecasting and some television work. Over time the television side of the job took over and he became the Chief Meteorologist at WEAU-TV, the NBC affiliate in Eau Claire WI. Part of his responsibilities included speaking engagements at schools and senior organizations. It was during these weather talks with seniors that his interest in weather-lore peaked. All he had to do is mention a weather-lore on the air and in the next several days he would receive more in the mail asking about different proverbs. From Wisconsin, John moved his family to Michigan (WWMT-TV) and then eventually to North Carolina (WXII-TV and WCNC-TV). During these moves he noticed many of the proverbs from the northern state were the same in the south. Only when it came to snow that he noticed a difference. It seems that the folks in the south had more and interesting ways of forecasting snow during the winter.

This book is his way of sharing some of his experiences and knowledge he has gained over the years.


I love this book. All the Old Wives Tales in one place, even a few I had never heard before. This book is a must for anyone that likes to talk about the weather.

–Meteorologist Van Denton
Chief Meteorologist WGHP-TV
(Winston-Salem-Greensboro-High Point, NC)


John’s passion for educating weather watchers of all ages is evident on every page of this book.

–Terri Bennett
Veteran TV Meteorologist,
Founder of Do Your Part®




One Christmas, I received a weather calendar loaded with amazing pictures of Mother Nature at her worse and best. Tornadoes ripping across the plains, lightning flashing across a lake and colorful sundogs (rainbow looking clouds found on each side of the sun) gleaming at sunset were just some of the pictures in the calendar; but the segment that I found so interesting was a section on weather-folklore. While looking over the calendar at breakfast I came across a proverb that states the day’s weather can be predicted by the bubbles in your cup of coffee. Pour freshly brewed coffee into a cup and watch the bubbles. Clear weather is expected when the bubbles move to the edge of the cup quickly, rain is anticipated when the bubbles gather in the center of the cup. I looked down into my cup and the bubbles were hanging around the center. Being that I was in Wisconsin and it was the end of December, it didn’t rain but it did snow that afternoon, evening and right into morning.

The next morning I was drinking some hot chocolate after shoveling 8 inches of new snow from the driveway, I started to wonder why the coffee bubble weather-lore worked. After some research, I found the barometric pressure was responsible for the location of the bubbles in my coffee cup. Sunny weather usually occurs when the barometric pressure is high. The higher pressure exerts a force down on to the coffee and the center of the coffee or hot chocolate will concave down and because the liquid will cling to the edge of the cup it will stay up just a bit higher there. The bubbles lying on top of the coffee will then float to the highest point of the coffee which is along the edge. When the barometric pressure is low, the center of the coffee will rise up while at the edges it remains low. This allows the bubbles to stay in the middle. Low pressure typically means rising air, clouds and precipitation. The proverb worked and it got me thinking of how many of these old wives tales or weather folklore are based on some science.

This book is a compilation of weather-lore that I have come across during my 30 years as a television and radio meteorologist in Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina. Over the years, viewers have sent me hundreds of weather proverbs, some may sound crazy but I found many do work out. I will try to explain scientifically why there may be some truth to these old wives tales.


Chapter 1

Getting Started

Mark Twain once said, “Everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it”. For as long as people have been talking about the weather, people have been working hard trying to forecast it. As with the Industrial Revolution I believe we have been going through a weather revolution of sorts over the past 50 to 150 years. Some of our earliest president started to lay the ground work for this expansion with their interest in weather. Thomas Jefferson bought the first thermometer in the country as well as a barometer. You can find detailed weather records from his home at Monticello. George Washington also took weather observations at his home at Mount Vernon. In 1849, 150 volunteers across the United States recorded and the transmitted weather information by telegraph to the Smithsonian. By 1860, there were no fewer than 500 stations across the country reporting to the Smithsonian. The National Weather Service was started in 1870 by President Ulysses S. Grant for the purpose of warning of impending storms. This transfer of information was accomplished by the then modern marine signals and the magnetic telegraph. Weather forecasting has come a long way since then with the invention of weather radars that track rain drops and snowflakes, satellites that show hurricanes over the oceans and computer models that use mathematical formulas to project weather patterns. We even fly into the eye of hurricanes and chase tornadoes for the latest information and knowledge to better understand these storms. Broadcasters show the destructive power of these storms in real-time and the warning system is much improved. Before this weather revolution people relied on weather proverbs and folktale to explain the weather.

During my thirty years as a meteorologist in the television/radio broadcasting industry I have been told hundreds if not thousands of ‘old wives tales’, weather proverbs or weather-lore. I have come to believe most short term tales have some type of scientific truth to them while long term or seasonal forecasts have very little validity. Here is an example of a seasonal ‘old time tradition’ for forecasting the weather for the next year that I find hard to believe. At 6pm on New Year’s Eve cut an onion down the middle and then peel off the top 12 layers. Next, place a teaspoonful of salt in each of the shells. On a piece of cardboard draw 12 squares representing the 12 months of the year and then place the 12 onion shells in the squares. At 6am New Year’s Day you’ll be able to read the forecast. If the salt in the shell is moist and has formed into a small ball, the corresponding month will be wetter than normal. If the salt is dry, it will be a dry month. Onions grown during different months would have a different layer structures and onions grown in different locations receive different nutrients and moisture would not have the same structure: therefore I have a hard time believing this weather-lore would work.

On the other hand, a short term weather-lore forecast such as “you can smell the rain coming “, does have some scientific basis. When the air starts to move vertically upward moisture is lifted into the atmosphere clouds and rain form. The rising air causes the air pressure to fall. With less atmospheric pressure being forced down on the earth’s surface, some gases that were once trapped in the soil can escape into the air. We typically smell those gases just before it rains.

Back in the mid-80s while working at a TV station in Wisconsin I met an elderly janitor whose knees could accurately forecast changing weather conditions. His name was Fritz, he was in his seventies and he had two bum knees. One afternoon, I had a 30% chance for thunderstorms in the forecast for the next day, the National Weather Service forecast called for a 20% chance for showers. I asked Fritz what he thought and he said both knees were sore. I changed the forecast and increased the chance for rain to 60%. Sure enough, a line of severe weather developed the next day. I nailed the forecast, while the other meteorologists in the area that followed the weather service forecast were a step behind. I looked good in the boss’s eyes, but it was really Fritz’s knees that saved the day. Understanding barometric pressure can explain why Fritz’s knees were so accurate.

Doctors and researchers have yet to agree on how much changing barometric pressure will influence sinus pain in some patients. It is believed that trapped air in swollen sinuses can be very sensitive to the change in pressure and some believe this added pressure leads to more sinus headaches. Let me tell you a story of a reporter I worked with in Michigan who’s sinus headaches were at times more accurate in forecasting the weather than myself. One day in January, a storm system was forecasted to move into the area from the Central Plains spreading a large area of snow across southern Michigan. Six inches of snow was forecast by the National Weather Service and me. One of the TV station’s reporters came to me saying her sinuses were not giving her any problems and she didn’t think the storm would be that bad. We ended up receiving only one inch of snow as the storm tracked further to the south than expected. I wish I would have listened to her.

When I was a kid, my uncle would take me fishing and he would say, “When the wind is from the east, rainy weather will soon move in”. Easterly winds can be found northeast of the center of low pressure. Since weather systems generally move from west to east across the United States, the storm should be moving into the area soon. A simple rule of thumb to find a low pressure or storm system is put your back to the wind and extend your left arm out. Your arm will point in the direction of the storm. More often than not, my uncle was right about the weather.

If you would like to read more of Nature’s Way by John Wendel, order your copy today.

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