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Weather Questions tagged “folklore”

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Question: Another question about some of the terms you and other meteorologists use nowadays. Why is everything now referred to as "...event?" — Margaret

Answer: That's a good question and good observation that we've noticed as well. We aren't certain of any particular intentional change compared to older ways of describing things in the weather field. Instead, as with any language usage there is some natural evolution, and trends that come and go. "Event" is probably something along those lines - we're not really sure why it became more common for us and others to say something like "snow event" or "severe weather event," it just started creeping into usage and pretty soon it just rolls off your tongue once in a while. Perhaps it will eventually fade back out of significant usage in a similar way as to how it faded in.
Jan. 7, 2015 | Tags: folklore, general meteorology

Question: Is it true, when it is the wintertime and lighting strikes it will snow in 10 days?? — Alexia Pridgen

Answer: It doesn't make for a very reliable predictor, but there is some truth to the idea that snow is more likely when we have recently had a pattern that produces wintertime thunderstorms. This has to do with the same kinds of very wavy upper-level flow patterns being able to both pull warm, moist air into the region from the south to fuel storms with lightning, and being able to draw cold air from the north far enough south to give us a chance at wintry precipitation.

A while back, we worked with the State Climate Office of North Carolina to look into some statistics relating to this old "rule of thumb," and found, for example, that on any given day in the winter at the RDU airport, there is about a 1 in 16 chance that snow will occur in the window of 7-10 days later. On the other hand, for a day when thunder is observed, the chance of snow 7-10 days later is about 1 in 8. So, the occurrence of thunder in the winter appears to roughly double the chance that snow occurs in the next 7-10 days. However, that chance is still low enough that many times it will not happen.
Dec. 31, 2014 | Tags: folklore, general meteorology, snow, thunderstorms

Question: Is it true that if it thunders in the winter two weeks later we will get snow? — Jessica

Answer: The folklore on that is usually started that it will snow within ten days after a winter thunderstorm, but the "rule of thumb" varies depending on who's telling it.

There is some physical reasoning behind those old "tales," although they certainly don't verify in every case, and even when they do the snow may take the form of unmeasurable flurries. Still, the same large-scale pressure patterns that bring warm, unstable air far enough north for winter thunderstorms here are also those that move cold air most deeply toward the south. Well-timed disturbances might then produce some snow within that ten-day or so window of time.

The patterns in question involve sharp mid-level pressure troughs and ridges that drive airmasses strongly toward the north and south. This is known as "meridional flow," and tends to produce stormy weather involving large temperature swings. This can be contrasted to "zonal flow," in which airmass transport is mostly west to east, temperatures tend to be moderate, and disturbances are often weak, making both thunderstorms and snowfall less likely for our area.
Dec. 27, 2014 | Tags: folklore, snow, thunderstorms

Question: I read that we will have no sunshine at all 21, 22, 23 and 24 December. Is that true? — Alyssa

Answer: We're guessing you ran across a message that was going around the internet not long ago saying something like "NASA Confirms Earth Will Experience 6 Days of Total Darkness in December," and that a giant solar storm would result in sunlight being blocked from earth for 216 consecutive hours. This appears to have originated with a satirical web site, and was possibly an updated version of some of the messages that accompanied the "Mayan Calendar" scare (and resulting non-event) of 2012. Like that one, this newer one is a hoax and can be safely ignored.
Dec. 10, 2014 | Tags: folklore

Question: Why did national media call the storm on November 26th a "nor'easter," when the winds were coming from the south? All the definitions describe a nor'easter as a storm with winds coming FROM the northeast. I checked online and weather casters on the national news channels were calling this a "nor'easter," but the map they showed demonstrated that the winds were moving from south to north up the Atlantic coastline. I'm confused why they would call this storm that. — Skeeter, Wake County

Answer: We went back and reviewed surface maps through that day, which can be found in an archive at These maps clearly show a deep low pressure system moving up the east coast of the U.S. that fits the common description of a nor'easter, which is a low pressure center that typically tracks toward the northeast or north-northeast, staying along or just offshore of the central and northern coast of the country. This track results in surface winds at many locations along the coast that swing from initially east to northeast to north and then to northwest and west as the low passes by. Often some of the strongest winds occur from the northeast as the low is moving toward a given location from the south, and that seems to be the origin of the term nor'easter for these storms. They are often producers of heavy precipitation, including wintry forms in the northern and western reaches of the circulation. We noticed that the center of this storm did cut slightly inland across eastern-most NC, so that for a short time along parts of our coast and the Outer Banks winds were from the south, but for northern parts of our coast, and the remaining coastline from Virginia up through Maine, the progression of wind directions followed the typical sequence for a nor'easter that we mentioned above.
Dec. 3, 2014 | Tags: cool sites, folklore, general meteorology

Question: My grandparents have told me on old wives tale, that if you see a ring around the moon that there could be major change in the weather within 10 days? Is there any truth to this? — Benjamin

Answer: Some variation of that is a common perception, and it is true that sometimes the high sheets of cirrus cloud cover that often produce noticeable halos do form in advance of storm systems that will later result in precipitation or sizable temperature changes. However, it is also quite common that the appearance of a halo is NOT followed by any associated rain or snow, but instead the clouds simply move on and yield to fair skies again. Halos of this type are quite common, and may form on as many as 60-90 days per year in our area. However, most of us miss many of these because they occur while we're indoors, they are a rather faint or incomplete version of the halo, they occur when other clouds at lower altitudes block the view, or they form in the daytime around the sun and go unnoticed in the bright light of day.
Nov. 16, 2014 | Tags: atmospheric optics, folklore

Question: Why was the snowfall in our western mountains recently called a "winter storm" when it is still fall? "Winter" does not officially start until December. — Bonnie Brock

Answer: You make a reasonable point, but the reference to a winter storm is traditionally more keyed to the organization and effects of the system, and the kinds of precipitation it produces, more so than the date it occurs on. Since the occurrence of snow, sleet or freezing rain is often referred to as "wintry" weather, maybe a storm outside the confines of the technical winter season would be better referred to as a "wintry storm." It's not a perfect analogy by any means, but we likewise would call an Atlantic hurricane a hurricane, even if it happens before June 1st or after November 30th.
Nov. 12, 2014 | Tags: folklore, winter weather

Question: Has anyone kept records on wooly worm predictions for cold/snowy winters? — Elizabeth

Answer: There isn't really any basis for connecting the order and color of bands in the wooly worm to a weekly rundown of future weather conditions through the winter, but it does make for some fun folklore and helps support a big festival in Banner Elk. Just for fun, the State Climate Office of NC did go through three years of predictions from the contest-winning worm a couple of years ago, and found the accuracy of the forecasts about the same as a coin flip. They did make a good point that the color pattern of the worms may bear some relation to the conditions of the previous winter. You can read their article at The Climate Prediction Center winter outlook for western NC gives an equal chance of above, near or below normal conditions for both temperature and precipitation, indicating that there are few strong signals to go on in making a confident projection for how this winter will turn out there.

Oct. 24, 2014 | Tags: cool sites, folklore, winter weather

Question: I have seen online about snow coming early. Maybe as early as the end of September and beginning of October. I was just wondering if this is true. I am due to have my baby November 2nd so I would like to be prepared as much as possible. — Lauren

Answer: Congratulations on the impending arrival. We've received a number of questions along these lines, and as near as we can tell it all traces back to a satirical article posted on a website called the Empire News that is entirely fictional and quotes a couple of non-existent people with titles like "doctor of global weather" and "Senior Administrator of Meteorologists." There is also a map of the U.S. covered largely in shades of blue that indicate above normal snowfall, and frequent references to "bread and milk."

As it turns out, so far climatic signals for the upcoming winter for the U.S. are rather mixed, with current projections for the our state, along with our neighbors just north and south, given equal chances of above, near or below normal temperature and precipitation, following an October that is expected to have a better than average chance of being above normal for temperatures while having "equal chances" regarding temperature.

Historically, the earliest measurable snow for Raleigh occurred on November 6th, 1953 and we have had a trace of snow as early as October 24th, which happened in 1910.
Sep. 20, 2014 | Tags: folklore, snow, winter weather

Question: Is there suppose to be some type of lunar event tonight? On Facebook ,someone posted a once in a life time event was to occur . Something about Mars and the moon looking like they were side by side. — Charles Lett

Answer: We're past the date that you wrote in, but during the intervening time the only view of interest regarding the moon and Mars in our skies was a nice triangle pattern that the moon, Mars and Saturn made in the evening sky over the Labor Day weekend. However, we suspect you are referring to an old e-mail hoax about the appearance of Mars and the moon that has started floating around Facebook from time to time in August. The post gives the idea that the two of them will appear about the same size in the sky, which is simply an impossible situation. For more background on the hoax, and the corresponding reality, see these two blog posts -- and
Sep. 4, 2014 | Tags: astronomy, folklore

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