Country Living Series

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Are we in for a hard winter?

Here in the Idaho panhandle, fall has indisputably arrived.

The sad remains of summer's oceanspray blooms dot the roadside.

Things are going to seed as fast as possible, while there's still time.

When we first moved up here from southwest Oregon in 2003, we had no way of knowing how severe the winters were. Since we live a mile and a half off-road, we decided every fall we would prepare as if we would be snowed in for three months. A touch extreme, perhaps, but as I said we had no way of knowing what to expect.

As it turns out, the first several winters were fairly mild. But then -- it hit. Two winters in a row were extraordinarily hard -- lots of snow and wind, lots of drifts. At one point our 300-foot driveway was impassible for eight weeks (we had our car parked at the end of it) and we had to transport kids and bundles back and forth on a sled. We practically lived on snowshoes while tending the livestock.

Since then the winters haven't been overly bad ... but there's always a chance the upcoming one will be a humdinger.

For eons, people have tried to anticipate the severity of winters. Folklore is rife with everything from the thickness of caterpillar fur to how many acorns an oak produces. Around here, we've heard predictions based on the thickness of deer or bear fat, size of the rose hips, abundance of snowberries, or other indicators. Yet so far I haven't been able to draw a correlation.

So what kind of signs are we seeing right now?

Well, the rose hips are ripening. Some are big...

...and some are regular-sized.

The snowberries are abundant, but nothing out of the ordinary.

The elderberries are coming ripe, but again there's nothing unusual about that.

I'm not sure what these little berries are, but they're pretty.

The one notable thing everyone is noticing are the sheer number of cones in all the fir trees. No one can recall seeing so many cones.

Everywhere we go, trees are absolutely loaded with them. Every. Single. Tree.

Some people are reporting broken branches and treetops, from the sheer weight.

The pines dropped their cones a month ago.

Whether this abundance of cones is any indication of an upcoming hard winter is anyone's guess.

A friend sent me this article from the Coeur d'Alene Press entitled "A new La Nina may bring us a snowy winter," in which it states: "The U.S. Climate Prediction Center gives a 75 percent chance that La Nina will come to life by the end of the year or even sooner. But, they don’t believe this new La Nina will be as strong as the one back in 2007 and 2008 when record snows hit our region."

If anyone knows of a proven indicator for what predicts a hard winter, I'd be interested in hearing it.

Meanwhile, we'll prepare for a hard winter. If it doesn't happen, we haven't lost anything.


  1. I am glad to see a kindred spirit when it comes to planning for hard winters. Although we are in Oregon we are located in the Cascades and have been known to have abundant snow when 15 miles a way the valley is snow free.

    I am usually pretty good at winter prediction but this year has me baffled. There is a heavy fruit set but it just doesn't feel like it will be that bad.

    I suppose it could be that we finally upgraded from a 1978 four wheel drive to a honking one ton rated 97 model and whenever we buy for a coming winter the weather laughs at us. Given the hit our budget took upgrading-it should be a sure sign of a mild winter.

  2. They say that the Old Farmers Almanac predicts a bad winter. I always just wait until spring and then I know! ;-)


  4. The Tibetan Mastiff owners that I know are cringing a bit looking at the coming winter. Seems most, if not all, dogs had a screwed up extended shed this year (for breed that normally dumps its coat and then is done in a matter of a couple months this is a big deal). And now the bitches, who normally go into heat in Oct-Nov on a predictable schedule, are now in heat and some have been for a few weeks! No one's quite sure if this is a reaction to the winter-summer just past, or prediction of the one coming, but no one's quite happy about it!

    1. I have a Great Pyrenees and she has not shed like normal either. We have had to really keep up brushing her this summer.

  5. In Indiana we always go by cutting a persimmon seed in half. If the inside looks like a spoon, there will be heavy snow. If it looks like a knife it will be mild. I don't know if you have a persimmon tree.

    1. I'm in Alabama and all the persimmons here are showing up with spoons. What I'm taking more into account is the fact my pears, figs and Apples are all ripening about a month ahead of usual.

    2. I just found a white woolly caterpillar in the garden. I have never seen a white woolly. A white woolly predicts a winter with heavy snowfall.

  6. I am hoping that this winter will be a cold one. We need it here in Washington state. It would sure be good for the farmers fields. In the meantime, here is something for you to watch. I thought of you immediately after hubby showed me. It is right up your alley with music and cows. Enjoy

  7. We always hope for a snowy winter, as we need lots of irrigation water. Since we only get about 8" of rain a year, irrigation is a must. Some cold temperatures before it snows would be nice to kill off a few bugs.
    I always get the snowblower on one tractorand have the loader ready on another one.
    Like has said before, come spring we will be able to talk of the winter.
    Am happy with the cooling trend going on at this time. Maybe the winds we have fought this summer will let up.
    Have a great week at your farm.

  8. The size of beaver lodges and muskrat lodges is supposed to be an indicator. The larger the lodge, the harsher the winter. The wooley bears in my yard are all brown and no black.. Supposed to mean a mild winter, but, scientifically, there's not any evidence that this predicting method works.

    1. I found a white woolly in the garden that predicts a winter with heavy snowfall. I also found an all brown woolly with just the smallest black by it's head. A mild winter with heavy snowfall possibly?

  9. I also live in the pan handle of Idaho and on my usual 06:00 thing in the morning to let the chickens out, it felt like there should have been frost on the grass. Also we had a fire in the stove in the beginning of July and one last week (only to get the chill out of the house). Fires have begun around here and are quite visible from everyones chimneys. I am thinking there will be a hard winter, hope I'm prepared enough. You are right about the pine overload.

  10. Mom in Georgia and me in Florida have been discussing how the insects that come out when the cooler fall weather arrives seem to have arrived ahead of schedule this year. The seasonal fruits and veggies have been ripening ahead of their usual time, too.

  11. I heard recently that if you count the number of foggy mornings in August, that's how many snows you will have in the winter.

  12. Patrice
    This has nothing to do with a hard winter.I just finished a book-called Indian Creek
    Chronicles by Pete Fromm, He was going to collge at the U of Montana in Missoula. In his
    third year he dropped out of college and went
    to work for Idaho Fish and game.Baby sitting
    a millon or so salmon eggs in the Selwell wilderness. He was studing to be a wildlife
    biologist. So any way he spent 7 months in a
    white wall tent with just a wood stove that even I would not trust.I am not sure but you
    might be interest

  13. I read that book last summer~ hilarious!

  14. I always enjoying finding woolly caterpillars to see what their colors will predict. Yesterday, while out in the garden harvesting potatoes I found a white woolly. Never in my life have I seen a white woolly. While researching the meaning I found that a white woolly indicates a winter with heavier than normal snowfall. On the flip side, I did also find one that was all brown with just the slightest black on it's head area. That would mean a milder winter. So does that mean we are having a mild winter with heavy snowfall? I also have noticed rosehips. I just found some the other day and that is about a month early for our area.

  15. Winter of 2013-2014 in northwestern Ohio, we reached a new record snowfall in the Toledo area - 84.8". Our annual average is about 36". What I do remember that fall was the sheer number of squirrels running around. I know it sounds silly but there were squirrels everywhere. In the park near us, the roads inside had squirrels scattered all along for over a mile and this went on for days. It was something I had never seen before and they were foraging for nuts like mad and running off with them. So...maybe there is something to the number of acorns available - Mother Nature providing?

  16. Well, a number of people have commented on the thickness and 'lushness' of moose beards (or dewlaps) under their jaws. It could be we've finally had a wet summer with lusher vegetation, after 4 years of drier conditions and weak snowfall. We hope the wet trend continues and gives more snow cover - it helps keep down the forest/brush fires, as well as fill the reservoirs.

    Steve Davis
    Anchorage, Alaska

  17. When I moved to the Midwest I was told with squirrels to predict winter you look at their tails.. big tail equals bigger harsh winter. My cat has shed more fur then I normally recall him shedding this summer. Either he wants a better coat for winter or he wants to spread more fur around to let the new cat who has only been here nine months know who rules this house. I'm going to try to be prepared for all either way.

  18. Granny always said "Hot summer will be followed by a cold winter". In the Memphis area we are in the 4th hottest summer ever recorded here. If Granny was right we're in for a mess.