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DGB: Weather Events in Fairview and Buncombe County: Part Three

Predicting Before Doppler Radar

The “Weather Man” or the weather service did not exist in reality until the last hundred years. People observed nature to give them guidance as to what the weather might be.

The belief was that an unusually heavy crop of nuts on the ground in the Fall meant we were in for a bad winter.

The first thing most people observed in predicting what type of Winter was on the way was mast -— the edible seeds and fruits of trees or shrubs. The belief was that an unusually heavy crop of nuts on the ground in the Fall meant we were in for a bad winter. People believed nature would produce an unusually heavy supply of acorns, hickory nuts, chestnuts, chinquapins, walnuts and other nuts for the forest animals to store for the hard winter that was coming. The chinquapin and walnut crop were unusually light last Fall, but acorns and hickory nuts were not only very large in number but in size as well. Hickory nuts were so big they were leaving dents on people’s cars that resembled hail damage. The acorn and hickory nut crop signaled a bad Winter. You can be the judge of that prediction for yourself. Do you think we had a bad winter? 

Bees were used to predict the weather as well. We never raised bees at home. The husband of my mother’s first cousin in Kansas City, Missouri, was the head beekeeper in Jackson County. Joe had a large bee yard in back of his house; it likely contained at least 50 hives. I had never been around bee hives and I wasn’t too brave about getting near them.

Joe would go out to the bee yard every morning. If the bees were staying close to their hives, he would say, “We better do what has to be done early because there will be a bad storm this afternoon.” If the bees were leaving their hives and flying away long distances, he said it was going to be a pretty day with no rain. This theory appeared to be correct on most occasions.

I was raised next to the railroad tracks in Swannanoa. A telegraph line always ran along the railroad track until it was finally taken down in the 1980’s. The telegraph wires would always whine and hum when the weather was going to change. I was told that colder air from an oncoming storm would cause the telegraph wires to tighten and that was the cause of the humming sound. I don’t know if that was true or not, but it was as good a tale as anything else.

People also believed that if the grass was dry at dawn it would rain before night; I have no idea about that one, because I seldom got up at dawn. 

Wet Feet at Dawn, Sunny Day Ahead

Dew was also considered a predictor of the weather. If dew was on the grass in the morning, there was a zero chance of rain that day. This prediction also appeared to be true most of the time. But I never was a big fan of dew on the grass in the morning. It would make your flip flops so slick you couldn’t keep them on.

People also believed that if the grass was dry at dawn it would rain before night; I have no idea about that one, because I seldom got up at dawn.

Whitakers are night owls. We don’t go to bed early. When I used to get off work at 2:30 in the morning and get home at 3 am, the only houses with lights still on were those of my father’s sisters. When my Granny Whitaker would come to Swannanoa to spend the weekend, she would tell my mother, who always went to bed early, to, “Get her butt to bed and leave us alone.” We were going to stay up and talk until we got good and ready to go to bed and Granny Whitaker did not want to hear any whining.

The only thing I personally ever paid attention to as far as predicting the weather was the Beacon smoke stack. If that coal smoke was going straight up into the sky, it made no difference what the weatherman said, it wasn’t going to do anything, neither rain nor snow. If the smoke was lying close to the ground, however, it would always do something that night. If it was cold enough, it would be snow. I never knew the smoke stack to be wrong.

Let It Snow… Please!

I was an avid weather watcher when I went to school. All the kids were, because were always wishing for snow. I would be watching the weather on TV, the weatherman would be predicting snow that night, and my hopes would be up. Grandpa Ingle would come in the door and stare at the TV. He would say, “You are going to school tomorrow. That old goat don’t know his — from a hole in the ground.” And it wouldn’t snow. The weather forecast made no difference.

Grandpa Ingle would come in the door and stare at the TV. He would say “You are going to school tomorrow. That old goat don’t know his — from a hole in the ground.” And it wouldn’t snow.

The official high and low temperatures in Asheville were always a joke. In the Winter it was always 5 to 7 degrees warmer than anywhere else. In the summer it was always 5 to 10 degrees cooler than anywhere else. Everyone would say Asheville kept its official thermometer on top of the stove in the winter and in the refrigerator in the summer to doctor the temperature for the tourists.

Local historian Bruce Whitaker documents genealogy in the Fairview area. Contact him by email at [email protected].