GREENSBORO, N.C. — Dry and mild? Snowy and cold? Even Santa doesn't know the kind of weather the North Pole will bring to the rest of the northern hemisphere this winter. Meteorologists tend to agree November is too early to be making snow speculations.
JoAnn Suttles wondered if there's a much simpler predictor than science -- a winter wives tale rooted in folklore. She commented on a recent WFMY News 2 post, "When you see a lot of acorns on the ground, the squirrels are getting ready for a cold, cold winter."
You'll find this claim in the Farmer's Almanac. The theory is squirrels somehow know they need to stock up for a bad winter, so they drop a bunch of acorns.
Veterinary technician Halley Buckanoff explained the folklore isn't fact. "Lots of acorns on the ground doesn't necessarily mean the squirrels can predict the weather this winter. What it usually means is it's a mast crop season. What that is, is trees like oaks that produce acorns are producing more this year," she said.
A mast crop, or overabundance of nuts, happens in a two- to five-year cycle. What triggers it is largely a mystery, even though scientists speculate climate is a factor. Masts do seem to be specific to region and tree. So, North Carolina could have a mast for white oaks one year and a mast crop for red oaks the next. Squirrels drop the plentiful nuts at a rapid pace, but not because they know a bad winter is coming.
"It's not that they know what the weather will be, but they're preparing for any kind of winter. The better prediction is because there's more food, there may be more squirrels next year, because they are better able to survive with extra fat and extra food squirreled away," Buckanoff explained.
Not only do masts feed the squirrels, they also feed the forests. Since the animals can't eat all the excess nuts, the nuts germinate into seedlings for brand new oak trees.
The claim is false, at least scientifically. An acorn abundance does not predict a pending bad winter, but where there is food, there are squirrels. We can't fault the little critters for stocking up...as long as they don't hog the milk and bread.
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