Across the world, every culture has it’s wives tales – from the old saying “red sky at night, sailors delight; red sky at morning, sailors take warning“, to the myth that woolly caterpillars can predict snowfall totals in the months ahead, we’ve all probably quoted one at one point or another. But there’s one in particular that interests me – and that is the idea that you can cut open a persimmon seed and gleam insight as to what you use it as a forecasting tool. In fact, this was one of the first wives tales I heard as a kid. Before I was a meteorologist, I bought into it, too! Nowadays we have all this technology, and all these models that we can verify after the fact – but is there any legitimacy to using Flora as a backyard forecaster?
If you aren’t familiar with the lore surrounding these seeds, the following claims are made – when cutting open one of these seeds, seeing a fork indicates a mild winter, providing “good eats”, a knife indicates a brisk, cold winter, as if you’re “cutting through the cold wind”, and a spoon indicates a snowy, harsh winter, with much “shoveling of snow” ahead. The stories behind this date back as far as the Civil War, during which writers for local gazettes would seek to help the troops by predicting the weather for them, and the true history likely dates back even further to when subsistence farming was the norm across the United States (especially considering the importance of mild winters to food crops in this folklore). Now, anyone who has lived here any length of time can tell you that Tennessee Valley winters vary WILDLY, but do these seeds actually help with the predictions? Well, we have several decades of data to put them to the test with… and the outlook isn’t good for them.
Sadly, comparing outlooks from a random sample of years to the actual end result hasn’t been shown to predict anything with any sort of consistency (although, our viewers have sent us many spoon shaped seeds over the last 2-3 years, and we definitely have had our share of snow!), but in an ironic twist of fate, they actually CAN be indicative of conditions of past seasons. When the fruit itself is germinating, the harder outer shell of the seed keeps the insides safe and protected until conditions become more favorable. If the conditions stay favorable for longer (for example, in a warmer more mild germination season), the seeds inner, fibrous roots have more time to grow and can create certain shapes. The opposite is true, too – if there is only a short window of time for germination, the inner roots may not grow into as robust shapes as they would otherwise. Kind of funny how the truth is actually the reverse of the mythos, isn’t it?
It goes without saying, but the best predictor, of course, is science. The best tool in our toolbox for now is the Climate Prediction Centers seasonal outlooks for precipitation, which, like the seed, combines conditions observed in years past and long range model data to create a forecast map that helps to show what we may have to look forward to. So what about this season? The Tennessee Valley has roughly average to slightly above average precipitation chances throughout this season, with much more robust precipitation chances off to our south, and especially along the coast (very typical of an El Nino-type pattern). Do you have any spoons in your yard to back this forecast up? Send us your pictures, and less us know… in the name of science, of course.