Thunder, halos and aches? The Sumter Item asks weather experts about myths

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 1/28/18

Given Ol' Man Winter has been harsh to Sumter and the surrounding area so far this season with unusually cold temperatures and even one heavy snow day, many may be turning to traditional weather tales to provide the long-range forecast.

Many are …

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Thunder, halos and aches? The Sumter Item asks weather experts about myths

Posted

Given Ol' Man Winter has been harsh to Sumter and the surrounding area so far this season with unusually cold temperatures and even one heavy snow day, many may be turning to traditional weather tales to provide the long-range forecast.

Many are wondering: "Will we have another snow day in the area?," or "Are we in for a long, cold winter?"

Some swear by one tale that says: "Thunder in winter signals snow seven to 10 days later."

The Sumter Item decided to investigate some of these common winter and storm myths and legends to see if there's truth behind any of them by asking who else but the experts with the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Columbia.

With a Bachelor of Science in Meteorology in hand from the State University of New York College at Oneonta in Oneonta, New York, Meteorologist Mike Proud took part in our questions. (Granted he's from up North and not the South, but Proud still has close to 25 years' work experience as a meteorologist.)

MYTH: A halo around the moon is a warning of rain or snow.

---FACT---

Proud said this one works year-round for precipitation.

He explained the halo, or ring, around the moon is caused by cirrus clouds.

"The cirrus clouds are so thin that you are actually not seeing the cloud, but the ice crystals that you can't see are causing that halo," Proud said. "So, what you're seeing is the beginning of the increasing moisture aloft, and then throughout the next 24 hours it works its way down, and you end up with precipitation."

MYTH: When you start hearing the peepers, or animals making noise during the evenings, winter's over.

---FACT---

... uhh ... up North, but not in the South.

Proud said in the Midlands, we can get a good warm period with temperatures into the 70s in the winter, and you can start hearing the peepers.

"And then it might get cold again, and we might not hear them for weeks," Proud said. "And then they will come back when it gets warm again."

In the northern states, this myth generally works out though, Proud said, because there are hardly any extended warm periods in the winter months up North.

"When I was living there, it would go from dead quiet one day to deafening in a couple days because of all the peepers coming out."

MYTH: When my joints really ache, that means a storm is coming.

---FACT---

"There is science related to that one," Proud said.

Storms occur after the air pressure lowers, according to Proud. Also, as the pressure lowers, people's joints will pick up on it because there's less pressure on them.

"Pretty much, all the arthritis and all the injuries that you have done to your joints over the years, all of that starts rubbing together, and it starts irritating it," Proud said. "It's because the air pressure has started to drop ahead of a storm."

MYTH: When wildlife starts "bulking up" on food, a strong storm is coming.

---FACT---

This one is related to science, too, according to Proud.

Many wildlife - such as cows and birds - actually pick up on air pressure changes before humans, or even barometers, do, he said.

"It has to do with the workings of their inner ear," Proud said. "Animals are a little different than humans with their inner ear, and they will start picking up on those pressure changes long before we do."

MYTH: Thunder in winter signals snow seven to 10 days later.

---FALSE---

Proud said this must be a Southern myth because he's never heard of it.

"Personally, I grew up up North, and it didn't matter if you got thunder or not; you were going to get snow," Proud said. "I heard thunder probably one time in the winter time in 20 years living up North, and it snowed all the time."

Research on the web shows other meteorologists also say this one is wishy-washy. Meteorologist Dave Samuhel with Accuweather.com says he's seen it work out before but also seen it fall through.

Unrelated to myths, Proud said the National Weather Service has official snowfall data for Columbia dating back 130 years. From that data, the meteorologists have drawn some interesting conclusions, he said.

The average number of snow days in a year in Columbia is 3.1 days, he said. So far, the city has had just a trace on one day - Jan. 3 - the same day Sumter received 3 to 5 inches in most areas.

The latest date it has ever snowed in Columbia is March 31, according to Proud. The seven-day time period when it is most likely to snow in Columbia is Jan. 24-30, according to the historical data.

Editor's note: Proud has almost 25 years' experience working as a meteorologist - first in the U.S. Navy for five years, then two years teaching weather for the Department of Defense at its weather school at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. He's been with the National Weather Service for the last 16 years, first serving in Idaho and Michigan, before moving to Columbia several years ago.