Thursday, June 7, 2012

Towering Sunflowers Predict ….


Folk wisdom, especially weather-related folk wisdom, captured my attention when I first learned the saying, “Red sky at night—a sailor’s delight and red sky at morning—a sailor’s warning,” from my grandmother.  I have tried over the years to determine whether or not her wise words consistently ring true, but so far--no verdict.

            I am still out on the woolly caterpillar stories, too.  I can’t capture enough of them to determine whether or not they sport more fur during colder winters than they do in warmer winters.  In fact, I can’t remember from one winter to the next exactly how furry the little guys the year before were.  Surely, scientists possess some statistical measuring device that would permit me to analyze this phenomenon more precisely, but I haven’t found the catalogue that sells this instrument to the public.

            Despite my confusion about red skies in the morning and woolly caterpillars, I do have an experiment of sorts going on right now.  Several years ago an unremembered someone (if I could remember, I would give credit) told me one can predict the amount of snowfall the following winter by measuring the height of sunflowers growing in road ditches.  The ditch part is important because rain provides their only moisture. 

            Road ditches around here get mowed fairly regularly, so I had to find an alternate experiment site.  We have a fenced-in area we don’t water or mow, a perfect spot for my experiment.  

            One might wonder where the plants come from in this odd little test.  Well, this area lies about 12 feet from our bird and squirrel feed. As the greedier birds fly over or the full-pouched squirrels dash across to tease our geriatric dogs, they drop some seeds. As a result, we have a yearly sunflower garden through no effort of our own.

            Over the last few droughty years, calling it a garden would be an exaggeration.  It sported a motley patch of dry grass and abbreviated sunflower plants that raised one or two blooms only a mother could love amongst the hardy, barely-above-the- ankle plants.  This year, however, led to new heights for those lucky seeds deposited there.

            I kept regular records of our rainfall, though I didn’t need to.  I could look at the sunflowers sprouting higher every day to know we had more moisture than these plants knew what to do with.  As the plants eventually grew taller than I, I knew I had a major experiment going on. 

That unremembered weather maven I mentioned earlier told me that you can tell how much snow you’ll have in the winter by the height of the sunflowers in the summer. Eventually, a few of these plants towered a good foot over my head, so I calculated and got around 84 inches of snow over the winter.  Hmmm. . . .

 Remembering the winter of 91/92, I recall having over 128 total inches of snow, snow that began in October and continued without break through March.  This winter hasn’t been anywhere near that intense, so I think either that weather maven is all wrong, though I can see some sense in such a prediction (if you have a wet summer, you’ll have a wet winter) or…

Punxsatawney Phil is correct.  We have a lot more winter coming, owing us at least another 48 inches of snow by my calculations. . . .


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