So here we are in September. The official summer season is almost over. Autumn officially begins on September 23 and then we know that winter isn’t too far away.

We Iowans are subjected to the extremes of weather – from beastly hot, humid summers to bone-chilling winter cold spells.

Accordingly, we love to talk about the weather and these days I’m hearing discussions of how bad winter will be. The Old Farmers’ Almanac is oft quoted and the prediction for Iowan’s 2019-2020 winter is “snowy, icy, icky.”

Forecasting a snowy, icy, icky winter for Iowa is safe. I have survived more than 70 Iowa winters and snowy, icy and icky are the only kind I remember.

I am, however, intrigued by individuals who believe they can predict the coming winter’s weather from signs of nature. I have known several “wooly worm” weather prognosticators.

Unable to divine nature’s signs myself, I did some research. You can decide if these are old wives’ tales or not.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac’ indicates that thicker-than-normal corn husks are a sign of a hard winter to come. Find a cornfield near you and check it out. (If you’re not the corn grower, you might want to ask permission first.)

Another sign of a tough winter ahead is the early departure of geese and ducks. Depending on where you live in Iowa, goose and duck hunting seasons are just around the corner. Make a note!

Here’s one I have never heard before: the Old Farmers’ Almanac maintains that thick hair on the nape of a cow’s neck portends a difficult winter ahead. I served as a bovine sanitation engineer (cow manure scooper) in my youth but I had never thought of checking a cow’s neck to forecast the weather.

Though I admire the industriousness of ants, I had never considered them a predictor of winter’s misery. The Old Farmers’ Almanac says that when ants march in a line rather than in a meandering hike we can expect a rough winter.

There are other natural signs for predicting the harshness of the coming winter. Some folks believe that when leaves fall early, fall and winter will be mild. Late fall leaves foretell a severe winter. Pay attention!

In a previous community our lot had several beautiful oak trees and we had a lot of acorns on the ground. If your yard (or porch or driveway) has an abundance of acorns this fall you can expect more snowfall this winter.

Accordingly, keep an eye on the squirrels! Busy squirrels storing lots of food predicts a more severe winter. Nature observers also maintain that bushier tails and nests higher in the trees is a sign of a difficult winter ahead.

If you have an Osage orange (hedge apple) tree on your property, you may be able to predict the harshness of the impending winter. People who study these things indicate that if you have a lot of the grapefruit-sized yellow-green fruit on the ground you can expect a harsh winter. The larger the fruit, they say, the tougher the winter. By the way, those hedge apples are also believed to repel spiders.

Upon returning from vacation several weeks ago I noticed that some animal had left calling cards on our driveway. I recognize rabbit droppings and dog waste but this was different and I finally concluded that some raccoons had pooped on our driveway. Sure enough, one of my neighbors had battled with raccoons on his property while we were gone. I don’t enjoy dealing with the little bandits but nature observers say raccoons with thick tails and bright bands are a sign of a harsh winter ahead.

And then there’s the wooly worm. Watch for woolly bear caterpillars, also known as woolly worms, this fall. Note that woolly worms are black and brown. If the brown segment is small, the winter will be severe. If the brown segment takes up most of the caterpillar, the winter will be mild.

You are now on your way to being a nature’s winter weather forecaster. I have been paying attention lately and I predict that the winter ahead will be snowy, icy and icky. Emphasis on icky.

(Arvid Huisman can be contacted at