Towering Sunflowers Predict…

Sep 23, 2013


  Folk wisdom, especially weather-related folk wisdom, captured my attention when I first learned the saying, “Red sky at night—a sailor’s delight and red sky at morning—a sailor’s warning,” from my grandmother. I’ve tried to determine whether or not her wise words consistently ring true over the decades, but so far--no verdict.

I’m still not sure about woolly caterpillar stories, either.  I can’t capture enough of them to determine whether or not they sport more fur during colder winters than they do in warmer winters. In fact, I can’t remember from one winter to the next exactly how hairy the little guys the year before were.  Surely, scientists possess some statistical measuring device to permit me to analyze this phenomenon more precisely, but I haven’t found the catalogue that sells this instrument to the public nor funds to pay for it.

Despite my confusion about red skies in the morning and woolly caterpillars, I have an experiment of sorts going on right now.  Several years ago an unremembered someone (if I could remember, I would give credit) told me you can predict the amount of snowfall the upcoming winter by measuring the height of sunflowers growing in road ditches.  The ditch part is important because rain provides their only moisture. 

Road ditches around here get mowed fairly regularly, so I had to find an alternate experiment site. We have a fenced-in area we don’t water or mow, a perfect spot for my research.  

One might wonder where the plants come from in this odd little test. Well, this area lies about 12 feet from our bird and squirrel feeder. As the greedier birds fly over or the full-pouched squirrels dash across to tease our geriatric dogs, they drop seeds. As a result, we have a yearly sunflower garden through no effort of our own.

Over the last few droughty years, calling it a garden would be an exaggeration. It sported a motley patch of dry grass and abbreviated sunflower plants that raised one or two blooms only a mother could love amongst the hardy, barely-above-the-ankle plants.  This year, however, those lucky seeds deposited there rose to new heights—a boon for my quest.

I kept regular records of rainfall, though I didn’t need to. I could look at the sunflowers sprouting higher every day to know we had more moisture than these plants knew what to do with. As the plants eventually grew taller than I, I knew I had a major this would validate that friend’s predictions or it would blow her snow projections out of the water.   

She’d be surprised to learn a few of these plants towered a good foot over my head. According to my calculations we should have received around 84 inches of snow that cold season.  Hmmm. . . .

Remembering the winter of 91/92, we had 128 inches of accumulated snow, precipitation that began in October and continued through March. This winter hasn’t been nearly that intense. Either my buddy is all wrong--though I can see logic in her prediction (if you have a wet summer, you’ll have a wet winter) or…Punxsutawney Phil is correct.  We have a lot more winter coming, owing us at least another 48 inches of snow by my calculations. . . .