12 Signs of a Bad Winter: Acorns, Onion Skins, and Weather Folklore | Almanac.com

12 Signs of a Bad Winter: Acorns, Onion Skins, and Weather Folklore

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The weather-predicting business is a tough one. According to folklore, all you have to do is look to the squirrels! Or measure the thickness of onion skins! Let’s have a look at some signs of a bad winter according to weather lore. 

The competition for my job predicting winter weather is horrendous! Sure, we always look forward to the release of The Old Farmer’s Almanac annual forecast but the squirrels offer up some impressive rodent wisdom as well. 


Squirrels gathering nuts in a flurry,
Will cause snow to gather in a hurry.

That make sense. If winter is going to be cold, better store up more food!  In addition, a tough winter is ahead if squirrels’ tails are very bushy. Even squirrel nesting patterns tell us how cold a winter will be. Nests higher in trees suggest a colder, snowier winter; nests that are located lower in trees suggest a more milder winter.

Image: Squirrels know about winter! Source: National Park Service

Birds and bees will give you some hints, too, if you observe closely. As with squirrels, when birds migrate early or bees build their nests high in the trees, the winter is going to be awful. The old saying goes:

See how high the hornets nest,
‘twill tell how high the snow will rest.

How about the woolly worms? Ever seen those fuzzy-wuzzy worms cross the road in autumn? The furry bands of brown and rust on a woolly caterpillar will tell you if the upcoming weather will be a cold one.

Image: “Are your chrysanthemums really pretty? Get out the mittens.” Even the flowers know! Source: Wikimedia

Trees and plants always give cues about rain and cold weather, if you observe closely. When leaves drop early, autumn and winter will be mild; but if they fall late, winter will be severe. 

Then there are the onion skins! Folklore claims that thicker onion skins can signal a cold and snowy winter.

Onion’s skin very thin,
Mild winter coming in;
Onion’s skin thick and tough,
Coming winter cold and rough.

–Gardener’s Rhyme

Other signs of a bad winter are:

  • Thicker than normal corn husks indicate a harsh winter ahead.
  • Same with tough apple skins!
  • Flowers in bloom late in autumn indicate a bad winter.
  • Thick hair on a cow’s neck
  • Larger spider webs
  • Ants marching in a line
  • Plentiful berries and nuts (which might be why the squirrels are so busy!)

Weather Lore and Science Go Together

Some of these are based on old-fashioned observation. But some goes back to science. 

Interestingly, weather folklore warning of a harsh winter is based on La Niña. So, it’s a little bit of art and science!

La Niña tends to be dry in summer and cold in winter, so if birds leave early, the leaves fall quickly, onions and apples are tough, and caterpillars are short, it may be due to the La Niña drought. A miserable La Niña winter will follow.

Image credit: Some folklore is warning of a cold La Niña winter. NOAA.

Other folklore is just based on the idea that you shouldn’t let your guard down. Lots of berries, nuts and flowers may be the sign of a lovely warm November. However, weatherwise, winter will probably be awful.

Now, let’s check out the 2022–2023 Winter Weather Forecast from The Old Farmer’s Almanac.