Folklore and springtime winters

The calendar may say the first day of spring is mid-March, but there is plenty of winters yet to come. photo

Winter in the springtime? Yep, it’s a thing. As Appalachian folklore and gardeners will tell you, there are several mini-winters that happen throughout the spring.

The calendar may say the first day of spring is mid-March, but there is plenty of winter yet to come. Long before Google and fancy magazines, farmers would track the seasons by years of observation and experience. They learned that after the first few warm days of spring, winter would return.

Late March is redbud winter. Expect to see the first cold snap just as the redbuds and apple trees begin to bloom. It won’t last long, but it’s still too early to put away warm winter clothes.

Dogwood winter comes in late April or early May. It may warm up in early April, but don’t be caught off-guard when the warm days disappear. As the dogwood trees bloom, the temperatures will drop and it might snow. You’ll be glad you didn’t pack away your long johns.

Talk to an official weatherman or science geek and they will say these fluctuations in the overall weather patterns are called singularities and must occur at least 50% of years recorded to be recognized.

Another widely known singularity is Indian Summer, the warm, sunny days that follow the first heavy frost of fall. I think the science crowd has come around and acknowledges what the “old-timers” knew along about spring winter patterns.

Blackberry winter is generally mid-May. This cold snap is believed to help the blackberry cane start to grow. It is generally accepted that after blackberry winter, which may be the last frost of the year, it is time to set out summer plants. But don’t pack up all of your warm clothes just yet.

This might be the most widely known of the springtime winters. Around the world this mid-May drop in temperatures is referred to as Miss Ban’s Winter in East Asia, Blackthorn Winter in England, and Takatalvi or back winter in Finland.

Some fun facts about blackberry winter: it was the B-side of Mitch Miller’s 1955 No.1 hit song, “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” Blackberry winter has been featured in short stories, ballet and film; and, notably, it is the title of the autobiography of anthropologist Margaret Mead, “Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years.”

During May, sometimes there is mention of the locust winter. You guessed it, this is when the locust trees begin to bloom.

The last cold snap of the year is commonly referred to as Linsey-Woolsey Britches winter. What a great name. It got this crazy name because long johns were made of blend of linen and wool. After this shot of cold temperatures in late May, even as late as Memorial Day, it is finally time to pack up and put away the long underwear.

Don’t despair about winter in the springtime — these singularities are brief, and because they happen about two weeks apart, we move through them quickly. After all, we can’t expect the soil to move from freezing to warm overnight.

So, take the early warm of days March and April and enjoy them as a reward for making it through February, and know that although spring plays tricks on us, it will be warm and time to plant by the end of May, just like it has been for the many generations of the past.