Tennessee Mountain Stories

Tennessee Folklore in Weather Prediction

From Harry Lane’s Tennessee Memories

Among the interesting humor stories associated with weather in this area is the folklore of weather prediction.  There seem to be uncommonly many weather prognosticators in the Cumberland Plateau area, of whom the best known may be Mrs. Hellen Lane of Crab Orchard.  Many observers might readily ascribe this lore to ignorance and superstition, but there is little doubt that some folk wisom is derived from keen observation of nature.  Perhaps the long-range prognostication is not god, but it has been shown that close study of nature can often produce short-term weather forecasts with reasonable accuracy.  For example, there is an old belief that when Lookout Mountain (a continuation of Walden Ridge, part of the Cumberland Plateau) “has its’ cap on,” it will rain in about six hours.  Experience has shown that when the sky “lowers,” that is, when the cloud ceiling decreases, rain commonly follows in a short time; so this piece of folk wisdom is a reasonable prediction.

Another example of weather-forecast wisdom sometimes set forth by Tennessee prognosticators is that swallows and bats will fly closer to the ground before a rain.  This seems to be true, since these birds (and mammals, as bats are!) have sensitive inner-ear mechanisms, and a sudden drop in air pressure preceding a rain may cause them to seek the somewhat higher pressure that is found near ground level.

Still another piece of weather lore that has validity is the saying that when katydids say “Kate,” they announce the nearness of frost.  It has been demonstrated that the katydid call slackens from “Kate-ee-did-n’t” at 87° F to “Kate” at 58°F, to muteness at 55°F or below.  It follows that the gradual cooling of air in autumn will eventually silence these insects as frost approaches.  The same thing is true of the chirps of crickets.

As for the presumed associations between other natural phenomena and weather events, the writer can claim no proofs for the accuracy of studies involving wooly worms, spider webs, the number of fogs in August, and many other such “keys!” Society would be poorer, however, without such colorful weather folklore.