Country Sayings Saturday

Why it’s Called Dogwood Winter

Spring can be an unpredictable time of year, with warm, summer-like conditions one day and snow the next. It’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security that the weather will remain hospitable when — BAM! — a freak cold snap hits and reminds you that winter only ended a few weeks ago.

Much like Indian summer — a period of unseasonable warmth in the middle of autumn — these periods of springtime cold have a name. Actually, they have several names. The little winters in the middle of spring are called variously Dogwood Winter, Blackberry Winter, Locust Winter, Whippoorwill Winter, Redbud Winter, and a few other regional variations.  Though predictable, the climb from cold of winter to the warmth of summer and back again is not completely smooth. Small “blips” in the overall pattern reveal noticeable fluctuations that can be observed from year to year. These blips are called singularities in weather lingo. For a singularity to be recognized, it has occur during at least 50% of years. Indian Summer is a long-established singularity. Dogwood Winter is another.
But why is it called Dogwood Winter, or any of those other names, for that matter? Weather forecasters SickDogwood-2015_originaldo know there will be a last frost, but it’s not predictable enough to say on what day, so we follow what the oldtimers taught us: a cold snap usually occurs around the time when the dogwoods are in bloom. With the possibility of frost happening during Dogwood Winter, they also knew to wait until after the dogwood bloomed to plant tender vegetables and annuals.  My mother said that you get a “winter” every time something white blooms.

Oldtimers also knew that blackberries need a cold snap to set buds on the blackberry canes, so as sure as night follows day, there will be a cold snap when the blackberries bloom, called “Blackberry Winter”. It comes with a somewhat less severe return of a continental polar air mass after the maritime tropical air masses have begun to dominate the weather.

One largely forgotten term for a patch of cold during the springtime is “Stump Winter”. This end-of-spring cold snap marks the last cold spell and derives its name from the use of the last of the fire wood – the stumps – for heat.  This is also known as “Whippoorwill Winter”. The whippoorwill migrates from wintering in Mexico to their summer range farther north in late May to early June. There is even another colloquialism for this spring cold snaps, which is: “Linsey-Woolsey Britches Winter,” referring to a type of winter long underwear which could be put away after the last cold snap. Whatever you call it, the last winter is not as cold as the other “winters” but still a bit of cold snap.

Me?  I don’t take my coat out of the truck until I need to make room for carrying home 4th of July fireworks…’cause it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it!

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