Massachusetts

What They Say in New England About the Weather

The days may be getting longer but spring weather — warm spring weather — is still a long way off in New England. Or is it? We can turn to New England’s rich folk tradition of signs and sayings about weather for guidance.

Winter in the Connecticut Hills by Childe Hassam

Winter in the Connecticut Hills by Childe Hassam

A Massachusetts man named Clifton Johnson collected New England folklore and published it in a series of volumes.

Many sayings about weather survive to this day. Who hasn’t heard, “If March comes in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb. If it comes in like a lamb, it will go out like a lion”?

Johnson was born in 1865 on a farm near Hadley, Mass., and quit school at 15 to work in a bookstore in Northampton, Mass. He studied at the Art Students’ League in New York in the winter and started selling his drawings.

Once, Johnson took photographs of subjects he wanted to draw and showed them to a publisher. The publisher bought the photographs instead. That convinced Johnson to write books as a way to sell his photographs. He wrote, edited or illustrated 100 books in his 75 years.

If you wish on frogs and robins — the first ones in spring, at least — your wish will come true if you tell no one, according to Johnson’s What They Say in New England. He has more to say about frogs:

After the frogs begin to sing in the spring, if they are frozen in three times, you may be sure that afterwards you will have warm weather.

What you are doing when you hear the first frog in the spring, you will be doing much of during the year.

When you hear the first frogs in the spring, you may know the frost is out of the ground.

Here’s how to tell how your year will go:

Kill the first snake,
And break the first brake,
And you will conquer all you undertake. (That is, the first snake and the first brake seen in the spring.)

Cats can double as weather vanes, at least according to New England folklore:

Notice your cat when it washes its face. The paw it uses and the direction it faces will show the point of compass whence the wind is blowing. For instance, the cat faces the north and washes with its left paw; the wind is blowing from the north-west.

The weather itself is a prognosticator:

Fog on the hills,
More water for the mills.

If the snow on the roof melts off, the next storm will be rain. If it blows off, you can calculate on snow.

When the wind is in the east,
Then the sap will run the least.
When the wind is in the west,
Then the sap will run the best.

Finally, here’s something to look for in March (along with snakes and frogs and robins):

A peck of March dust is worth a bag of gold. The idea is that when you have much dust blowing about there must be much wind; and winds at that season dry the mud, and prepare the earth so that all crops can get an early start.

With thanks to What They Say in New England by Clifton Johnson and American Folklore: An Encyclopedia by Jan Harold Brunvand. This story was updated from the 2014 version.

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