A Winter Forecast – From The Web

Published 4:30 pm Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fall is fast approaching, and so are all the creepy-crawly things that have been lying low all those long hot days of summer.

Fast approaching, in fact, is a bit of an understatement when it comes to some of them, the “black racer” snake in particular. I had an encounter (of the way-too-close kind) with one last week.

Every evening just before bedtime I make the same loop around the barnyard. First I latch the chicken-sized door on the hen house, then I shut the barn door and tuck the goats in for the night, and finally I swing by the garage to say good night to the “outside” cats (who are really “inside” cats by night).

I had just latched the gate on the chicken pen when I noticed something slithering past my foot. Even by moonlight it was easy to recognize the long lean silhouette of a snake.

I stopped, and so did Mr. Snake.

As a general rule, snakes are no more anxious to make my acquaintance than I am theirs. This snake apparently didn't know that rule. My fanged friend (or should I say foe) turned and headed right for the spot where I was standing.

Needless to say, I wasn't there long. As I later learned, this particular snake was a racer, and at that moment so was I. I'd be willing to bet that my time from the chicken pen to the back door set a world record.

Snakes, particularly ones that chase me, are not my favorite inhabitants of the farm, but they come with the territory – especially during the fall of the year.

Since then I've adjusted my nighttime routine. Yes, that snake encounter made me see the light, and now I carry one when I go outside after dark.

According to folklore, snakes are good at shedding light on other topics including the weather. Snakes are especially adept at forecasting rain.

If you see snake tracks in a dusty road it will rain within 24 hours, or if a snake crosses your path it will rain the heaviest where you are. Watch out for a live snake stretched out full-length on the ground (as if most of us wouldn't). It's a warning that a severe storm is imminent.

Spiders are also out and about in September as the days get longer and the nights cooler. If you don't believe me try taking a walk through the woods – it gives a whole new meaning to the term “web site.” Anyone, in fact, can “log on” (a favorite spot of snakes and spiders) to nature's weather channel by observing the small and the slithery.

While spiders are not my favorite arthropod, (I'm not sure I have a favorite) I've learned to tolerate them – especially in the garden.

Argiope aurantia, commonly called the black & yellow garden spider, likes to set up shop between the rows in our garden where he waits for customers like flies, crickets, and wasps. Diurnal (active in the daytime) by nature, Argiope hangs upside down waiting to entangle its prey and subdue them with its fangs.

This time of year the big leggy guys are everywhere.

The female is the larger of the species, reaching 1-1/8 inches at maturity (I know I've seen bigger ones in our garden). Their webs are large too – some two feet across.

While Argiope spends a lot of time on the web their “internet” is rudimentary at best. In other words, spiders don't “surf the web,” but they can perform some pretty intricate maneuvers while adding the distinctive zigzag pattern to the center of their web “home page.”

Spiders don't need an iPhone to get their message on the airwaves either. If those airwaves start moving that web around, Mr. Spider gets the “instant message.” He (or she) knows exactly what to do – they drop to the ground and hide until the danger is past.

Spider web sites are quite accurate when it comes to long-range winter forecasts.

A September with more spider webs than usual presages an early winter with cold weather. If cobwebs are “webbing up tight” in early September look for a very cold and long winter. If their “webbing up” occurs in early October it will be a mild winter ahead. Also, a large number of spider webs on the trees in the fall means a prolonged Indian summer.

Daily weather forecasts also come from the spider web. When spiders come in the house it's a sure sign that heavy rain will soon began to fall. On the other hand, when spiders start mending their webs the weather will be clear. Spider webs floating in the air also indicate a rainy day ahead.

When you see spiders and snakes heading for your back door – look out (as if anyone wouldn't)! An extended spell of extreme cold is on the way.

These fanged forecasters predicted last winter's weather fairly accurately, so I plan to pay attention as fall progresses. As forecasts go, Mother Nature's site is about as accurate as they come – straight from the web!