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SPOTLIGHT
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Keeping eyes peeled for the right signs

Published on -6/24/2012, 12:38 PM

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Most rural Kansans have spent their entire lives watching the clouds and hoping for rain.

But cloud watching was fruitless during May as we gazed skyward and hoped for moisture during a droughty spell that wasn't broken until about 1.5 inches of gentle rainfall soaked the earth on Flag Day, June 14. We need another rain right away, but instead we've suffered through 100-degree days and drying winds.

These days, farmers check the weather channels on TV so they can watch radar showing the fronts that move across Kansas. Usually the rains are south of us or north of us, and we hear storm reports of hail and high winds there. But no amount of watching TV will bring actual rain.

Once upon a time, rural Kansans looked for weather signs in nature. As odd as these signs were, their forecasts were about as accurate as the radar.

It was about a century ago, when a Downs editor saw a circle around the sun, that he wrote "it will rain within three days." He didn't report whether rain actually fell.

He also advised: "The next time you kill a snake, lay him on his back, belly up. That is sure to bring rain."

Moon signs also were considered reliable. A single halo around the moon indicated a storm. A double halo meant boisterous weather. A dull moon meant rain. If the new moon appeared with its point upward, the month would be dry. If the points were downward, rain might be expected during the next three weeks. The new moon on her back always portended wet weather.

These were among the signs that were watched by men who worked outdoors and tried to pick up information from the world around them. While these omens may sound unreliable, they really believed in them.

A Downs editor wrote in 1908 that he had found a weather prophet: "G.W. McConnell called us aside last Friday and whispered in our ear that there would be rain inside of four days. He said he didn't claim to be a prophet, but that he would stake his reputation on the proposition. Well, it rained all right, and we are wondering how he knew. He didn't say anything about the color of the sky or the changes of the moon. He simply said it would rain, and it did."

The editor checked with McConnell and explained: "He always notices that, just before a big rain or at the breaking up of a dry spell, his well becomes riled up and the water appears to be muddy. This occurred before both of the rainy spells this spring."

A local barber named Mose Allen depended on the moon: "He claims that the moon influences the weather, just as it influences the tides. The tides rise in the morning at nine o'clock and recede in the afternoon at three o'clock. Allen's theory is that, if the changes of the moon occur between midnight and noon, that quarter will be wet. In the present month of April, three changes occur in the morning so, according to his theory, April should be a very wet month."

Believe it or not, April was a wet month.

Perhaps the most reliable forecast was uttered by a local resident who said after a shower: "We will have plenty of moisture from now on. It never rains to any great extent until the ground is wet."

It has been noted that "everyone talks about the weather but no one ever does anything about it." That changed a half century ago when pilot Woody Wilson flew over Smith County and seeded the clouds with dry ice. He told me that an area woman was mad at him, because his cloud seeding brought on a rain and it soaked her washing as it hung on a clothesline.

The only manner in which I've tried to bring rain was to wash my car, or to leave my garden tractor outside overnight. If anything will bring rain, that will do it.

The old weather lore seems to have disappeared. At least I never hear anyone talk about it in these modern times. But perhaps we should watch for weather signs again. It might not forecast rain accurately, but at least we'd have something to talk about during the drought.

Darrel Miller lives near Downs in rural Osborne County and is a retired weekly newspaper editor.

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