March 13, 2011

March Weather Folklore

I think most people are familiar with the old saying about March weather, "In like a lion out like a lamb." If you're not, the meaning behind it is that if the month begins with awful weather it will end with good weather.

Clifton Johnson included the proverb in What They Say In New England, his 1890s collection of folklore. Did it spread across the country from New England? It seems possible, since this area used to be the cultural center of the United States. (It's hard to believe now, but New England was like the Hollywood of pre-Industrial America!) The saying itself is of British origin and has been found in printed English works from the early 1600s.

Given the giant snowfall northern New England got earlier this month, I'd say March has indeed come in like a lion. Let's hope it leaves like a lamb - gentle, fuzzy and with lots of little green growing things.

Who's it going to be, the lion or that lamb?

Johnson recorded a corollary statement which is much less well known: "In like a lamb, out like a lion." In other words, if March starts with pleasant weather it will end poorly. When you add these two proverbs together, you get an accurate picture of New England weather as spring approaches. Some of it is going to be lousy, some of it good, but you just don't know what's happening when. Wear layers and carry a good umbrella.

What They Say In New England also contains this bit of wisdom about March: "A peck of March dust is worth a bag of gold." That one is a bit more cryptic for a modern reader. According to Johnson, if dust is blowing around in March it means the wind is drying up all the mud. If the mud is dry farmers can plant their crops early and possibly get a bigger harvest. Hence, dust = gold!

I haven't seen any dust yet, so I'm holding off the planting. I'm not sure how much credence to give to this weather lore anyway. What They Say... also claims that if you kill a beetle if will bring rain. That's definitely not true, so please don't kill your local beetles!

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