Have you ever wondered how weather was predicted in the 18th century? You know—before all those weather apps, doppler radar, and the local weather guy (or gal) giving an extended forecast? And what about really big events, like hurricanes and tornadoes? How did people protect themselves during these major storms?
In the 18th century, forecasters depended a lot on two tools: weathervanes and almanacs. One of the most common predictors of the weather to come was the weathervane, which revealed the direction of the wind. Colonists closely watched the direction from which it was coming and based a lot of their predictions on the readings of this simple tool. Here in the Tidewater region, it was believed that a wind from the west meant rain was on the way!
Local craftsmen enjoyed creating a variety of designs for these weathervanes. Roosters were very popular choices although other animals such as pigs and horses were also seen proudly adorning the peaks of barns, houses, and churches in Colonial Virginia. Here are just a few 18th-century weathervanes that are on display in our Art Museums.
Superstition and cultural stories also had a hand in predicting weather in the latter part of the 1700s. In fact, there were times when folklore influenced their predictions more than science. Colonists turned to animals and plants as well as the sky to make their best guesses as to what was heading their way.
Another common tool was the Almanac. First published in 1792, the Almanac ushered in a whole new era of scientific weather predictions. These books contained everything from poetry to planting and harvest schedules for farmers. Many of the favorite weather sayings continue to be used to this day.
While there weren’t any warning systems in place for tornadoes and hurricanes, we know that several large storms blew across the Peninsula in the 1700s including the “The Hurricane of Independence.” This is why many early American houses were built with underground cellars where residents could quickly escape in an emergency as they saw the storm coming in. You can see the bulkheads at the side of most of our colonial houses.
We thought it would be fun to dig up some old sayings about the weather and see what you think about their validity.
RAIN IS COMING!
“If there appear a circle about the moon, you may expect stormy weather to appear shortly after.”
“If the sun set under a thick black cloud, it is almost a sure sign of some rain the next day.”
SNOW IS ON THE WAY!
“If the mist [in the mornings] continues many days, as it frequently does in November and December, I think it is a sure sign of much rain or snow falling in the winter.”
“Clouds like woolly fleeces appearing high and moving heavily; the middle a darkish pale, and the edges white, carry snow in them…”
IT’S GOING TO BE A SCORCHER!
“In a hazy summer’s morning, when you see many spider webs upon the grass, trees, etc., you may expect it will clear up, be hot, in general, before twelve o’clock.”
“If the clouds appear of a scarlet red at or near the setting of the sun, it is a sure sign of fair weather.”
For even more age-old weather sayings, check out this blog post from The World Turn’d Upside Down.
What about you? What weather proverbs or sayings have you always heard? Do you think they’re true?