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Originally published: 2011-10-07 18:12:44
Last modified: 2011-10-07 18:13:05

August mornings, beans, corn husks, woolly worms and other local weather prognostications

Column by Sheri Cornett/Special to The Avery Journal-Times

I first would like to thank all the people that work for Mountain Electric for all their hard work in the winter months to keep us illuminated and warm with lights and heat. A quick word of warning for you: Take a vacation now, because when winter starts you won't get time to sleep, much less take time off.

Observation of morning fogs in August is a folklore that has been passed down from generation to generation in the mountain area and believed to come from the area's Scottish ancestry. 

So, exactly how does one observe the fogs? I personally have a special place, like most in the area, to count the mornings of fog in August. Areas that work well include fields and other locations where fog is very easily seen. From there, observers watch the place at the same time each morning through the month of August. The fog may lay low to the ground, or it may hover just above the ground. Upon viewing a day, I usually mark the fog on a calendar, while other people mark the fog with placing various-sized beans into a jar. The size of the bean is determined by the heaviness of the fog. If the fog is heavy, a large bean is placed in the jar, while a light fog calls for a smaller bean.

When August ends and September begins, I then sit and look at how my calendar adds up. This alone is believed to tell how heavy and frequent the snow and ice will be for the upcoming winter, while other phenomena such as bees in the ground or above the ground tells about the coldness of the winter. A number of other natural signs are thought to exist, including corn husks, katydids, tree leaves, clumps of grass, spider's nests, animal fur and even a black squirrel.

Joe Mullis, a resident of Ashe County, has learned this from his ancestors. I wish I better knew how to read these signs, but for many it has become a lost art from our ancestors. 

Often I am ridiculed for following the local folklore. It's no different than when the old-timers foretold the winters before the days of meteorologists, satellites and 24-hour weather channels. Some believe the signs, and some don't. That said, I still enjoy seeing just how close I come and help preserve the old ways.

From my observations of the August fogs and the signs, I would not be surprised if the woolly worm that wins this year has markings more brown than black, with none on the front or end. 

This is merely an observation, but from my point-of-view, nature indicates that snows will be lighter than last year, but we are in for a very long winter with above-average ice and more colder temperatures. It might be possible to see a dusting of snow before Nov. 1 (as some in higher elevations last weekend are able to already attest). 

The woolly worm is based on a 13-week period of the winter season. As many natives of Avery County recognizes, however, there is generally more than 13 weeks of winter weather. The outlook of ice and cold is based on bees who are making their nests in the ground. It is their natural way of gathering to survive the winter, and the nests are deeper in the ground this fall than for a milder winter. The behavior indicates the weather is going to be cold, the ground will stay colder for a longer period and it will be a period of long, cold temperatures.

Back to the proverbial bean counter for a moment. The following is how my collection of beans stacks up for the coming winter season:

-Large beans: three (symbolizing three heavy fogs, hence three heavy snow or ice events.)-Small beans: four (symbolizing four light fogs, hence four light snow or ice episodes.)-Eleven days of snow flurries, with two days of all-day snow, mainly blowing snow with extremely poor visibility.
-An early dusting of snow, prior to Nov. 1.

I haven't had an opportunity to view a Farmer's Almanac yet to see it's prediction, but this is what I see coming. I might recommend stocking up on a few extra canned items, and prepare to check on your animals and neighbors. A few good books to read doesn't hurt, either.