Nature’s Meteorologists

My grandparents’ farm in Decorah, Iowa

As I’ve said a time or six dozen, my maternal grandparents were Iowa dairy farmers. My grandfather was a short, stoic German man who possessed a loud voice and strong opinions. Getting to know him and earn his respect wasn’t always easy, as my husband, Kevin discovered.

My Grandpa Walter saw my husband as a city kid who knew nothing of farm life. (Which was true.) As a child someone shared an animal proverb with Kevin. When a cat washes behind its ear rain is on the way. On one visit, Kevin noted one of my grandmother’s barn cats washing behind its ear, and shared the weather prediction with my grandfather. My grandfather naturally thought this city kid couldn’t know what he was talking about. A while later, Kevin set off to pick up my mother a hour or so away and asked my grandfather to ride shotgun. On their way back to the farm, the skies opened up. Not only did it rain, it poured. One of those driving rains that makes it difficult to see when driving.

That day proved to be a turning point for my husband and grandfather. Kevin showed my grandfather he knew something about his world, and my grandfather developed a new respect for my husband. From that day on until the day my grandfather died, cats washing behind the ears predicting rain became a running joke between them.

Farmers and ranchers often looked to animals for indications of the weather, and reliance on these methods isn’t as silly as it sounds. While people might not have known when creating the proverbs, now science often explains the animals’ behaviors. For example, cats ears may be sensitive to changes in barometric pressure causing them to wash behind them when rain is coming.

Just for fun and to hopefully make your smile, here are some other animal proverbs from the Farmer’s Almanac.

  • If a cat sits with its back to a fire or sleeps with all four paws tucked under, bad weather is coming.
  • When a cat licks its fur against the grain, prepare for a hailstorm.
  • When a cat sneezes, rains is on the way.


But cats aren’t the only animal meteorologists…

  • If a cow stands with its tail to the west, the weather should be fair. If it stands with its tail to the east, the weather will turn bad.
  • When a dog eats grass or sheep turn into the wind, expect rain. (Based on how often my dogs eat grass, I should be building an ark, so I’m not a big believer in this one! ?)
  • If a bull leads the cows to pasture, bet on rain. But if the ladies lead the bull, the weather is uncertain.
  • The more brown a wooly bear caterpillar, the milder the winter.
  • (This one isn’t super practical since it requires a
  •  tape measure. I can’t see many farmers measuring mole holes! ?) If the mole hole is 2 ½ feet deep, expect severe weather. If it’s 2 feet deep, it won’t be as severe, and 1 foot deep indicates a mild winter.
  • When pigs gather leaves and straw in the fall, prepare for a cold winter.
  • Fat rabbits in October and November indicate a long, cold winter.
  • Bats flying late at night mean fair weather.
  • Wolves howl more before a storm.
  • Predict the temperature by counting a cricket’s chirps.
  • Hornets building their nests high in a tree means a snowy winter.
  • Cows laying under a tree in the morning means rain is on the way.

And from the plants:

  • When leaves “turn their back to you” and curl somewhat, watch out for rain.

To be entered in today’s giveaway for the Live Happy sink soap mate, a llama car air freshener and a copy of A Cure for the Vet, leave a comment on your weather proverb.


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Julie Benson has written five novels for Harlequin American, and her Wishing, Texas series is available from Tule Publishing. Now that her three sons have left the nest in Dallas, when she isn't writing, Julie spends her time working on home improvement projects, rescuing dogs, and visiting Texas wineries with her husband. Visit her at

42 thoughts on “Nature’s Meteorologists”

  1. If it thunders in February it will frost or at least be extremely cold on that same Day of month in April.
    Example February 15 thunder = April 15 frost/cold

    Another is when the moon is around a quarter if sits in a smile shape then it’s holding its water no rain now if it tilts sideways then rain is coming

  2. I love your interesting proverbs. I have always heard that if it rains on the first day of the month, you can expect 15 more days of rain that month.

    Nothing to do with weather but if cows are lying down, the fish aren’t biting!

    • Melanie, I like the rain one, but I LOVE the fishing one. I may have to use that in a book! Thank you for your comment and for stopping by today. Take care and stay safe!

  3. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red skies in the morning, sailor take warning.

    thought to be derived from the Bible, Matthew 16:1-3.

    • The wooly bear caterpillar. If the black is wide you can count on a cold and wintery winter.

      • Charlene, for this one to help me, I’d have to Google the wooly bear caterpillar so I could recognize it! The ones about animals make sense to me. I think something about the conditions make the caterpillar adapt and have a somewhat different coat. Thanks for the comment and for stopping by. Stay safe and take care.

    • Denise, since my husband liked to sail when I met him, I’d heard that saying. However, I had no idea that it was thought to originate from Matthew 16: 1-3. I’m going to look those verses up today! Thanks for your comment. Take care and stay safe.

  4. If a mesquite tree has lots of beans, it will be a cold winter.
    Glenda’s Thunder in February and Frost in April is true, one my mom always claims too.
    Great post, I know more but my mind isn’t thinking this early. Have a Blessed day, Julie.

    • Tonya, I’ve never heard the one about mesquite trees, but living in Texas, it definitely could come in handy. Next year I’ll have to keep track of the weather in February so I can watch out for frost in April. May your day be blessed as well. Stay safe!

  5. Cows gathered in a group mean something drawing a blank at moment.

    Sun dogs the pretty rainbows on the side of the sun mean something about weather. Can be on one side or the or both sides.

    I find these things so interesting and love to look for them on my drive home. Have a very blessed day.

    • Kristi, I’ll have to look up both those! I admit, I’ve never heard of sun dogs, but they sound beautiful. Thank you for stopping by today, and may your day be blessed, too. Take care!

  6. We used to look to the trees for tornado weather when I lived in Kansas. On a different note, animals may indicate a coming earthquake

    • Debra, I haven’t heard about looking to trees for tornado weather. When I lived in Iowa I often had nightmares about tornadoes. I truly believe dogs sense all kinds of things we’re unable to because their noses, ears and systems in general are more sensitive than ours. To Tame A Texas Cowboy has a seizure alert dog in it. While researching that book I learned dogs can sense high and low blood sugar. They’re also beginning to think some dogs can detect cancer! I’m not surprised animals can detect earthquakes. Thanks for your comment and for stopping by. Take care and stay safe!

  7. One of my cats has bad allergies. If it was true about cats sneezing predicting rain, we might in for a hurricane. I am always amazed at animals who can predict certain illnesses or death. I remember one time when we had a small earthquake here, one of my cats started acting really strange about 5 minutes prior to it and then he threw up. Afterwards, I thought maybe he knew something was about to happen. My teeth start hurting when weather is about to get stormy or cold. I think it’s all of those old mercury fillings causing it.

    • Janine, your comment about your allergy cat made me chuckle! Clearly predicting rain via sneezes is not his talent. Maybe he’s a wash behind the ear predictor. 🙂 In To Tame A Texas Cowboy my heroine has seizures and the hero’s foster dog can predict when she will have one. Animals senses are so sensitive they are able to pick up on environment cues and changes in people we can’t begin to. The theory with seizure dogs is they sense a chemical change that occurs in a person that makes them smell different. I’m not surprised your cat could sense an impending earthquake. I wonder if there are changes in vibrations that he sense. Obviously, it upset his system! Thank you for making me smile! Take care and stay safe!

      • I learned a lot from To Tame A Texas Cowboy. I had heard of dogs who could predict with seizures, but honestly didn’t know anything about them. I really enjoyed that book. I honestly don’t think Pele can predicts anything. She’s just an old cat and doesn’t do much but sleep most of the time. storms don’t even bother her anymore. Now Pono, the one who predicted the earthquake really surprised me. I didn’t think anything of it at the time until I felt that movement. And it was just very slight. I thought my vertigo was kicking in or my computer chair suddenly felt like it moved. My husband was sitting on the bed and he didn’t feel it at all. But Pono was freaked out for a couple hours afterwards. he really was a special boy.

  8. We still use the caterpillar one. I grew up on a dairy farm and we had so many of these sayings, but I don’t remember many anymore. If the birds grew quiet then severe weather was about to hit. I know we looked to the animals for signs of many things. Isn’t that a crazy thought!

    • Susan, I don’t think it’s crazy at all, especially for farmers. Their livelihood depended on the weather. Bad weather coming often meant getting hay or whatever into storage or getting stock safe. Early on when there weren’t warning systems there weren’t machines for predicting either or it was too expensive. Farmers knew animals sense things in the environment that we’re incapable of. Watching the animals around him often gave farmers the early warning they needed to take shelter.

      Where was the dairy farm you grew up on? My grandparents had one in Decorah, Iowa. That in Iowa’s upper northeastern corner near the Minnesota border. It’s a demanding life. My grandfather never could come to out of town events such as my wedding or graduation because he had to milk the cows twice a day.

      Thanks for sharing today. Take care and stay safe!

  9. Really enjoyed these weather predictions. I have always heard when the leaves turn upside down on trees its going to rain. These bones of mine tell me when the weather is going to change.

    • Thank you for stopping by today to chat. I’ve heard the saying about leaves, too, but I never think to watch for it. I’ve heard people say their bones sense when the weather is going to change. As a teacher, whenever the barometric pressure changed because a front came through the kids were always wild. Thanks for your comment. Take care and stay safe!

  10. “Mitä elokuu ei keitä, sitä syyskuu ei paista.” “If August doesn’t boil it, September won’t fry it.” In other words, if crop isn’t ripe by August or at the latest in the beginning of September, it will never ripen.

    • Oh, and around here, when a cat washes behind its ear it doesn’t mean rain is on the way. It means there are some visitors coming.

    • Minna, thanks for stopping in today. Your saying is really interesting. I’ll have to keep it in mind next year if I plant a vegetable garden. My dogs got into mine last year. This year I didn’t have seeds and with everything closed down. Well, you know. Thank you for the comment and take care!

  11. What a great read Julie! The cat predictions amaze me … I didn’t know they knew so much!

    • Kathy, I think because animals senses are heightened in comparison to ours and their systems more sensitive in general, they pick up on environmental changes we’re unaware of. They sense changes in barometric pressure which may affect their ears and cause them to rub them. They sense vibrations and may be aware of an upcoming earthquake. If we’d only pay more attention to them. Thanks for stopping by to chat. Take care and stay safe!

  12. These predictions are so unique and special.
    When dew is on the grass, rain will never come to pass.

    • Ellie, I’ve never heard the one about dew on the grass! I’ll have to remember it. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thank you for stopping by to chat. Take care and stay safe!

  13. If the clouds move against the wind, rain will follow.
    What an enjoyable and beautiful post today about your grandfather and your husband.

    • Sharon, thank you for sharing your saying about the clouds. I’ve never heard that one. I wonder if my husband has since he once raced sailboats. It sounds like something he would’ve relied on back when he raced.

      The cat rain prediction incident was honestly a turning point in their relationship. It forged a bond and respect between them. My husband loved to give my grandfather the business about it. We’d go to visit, and one of the first things Kevin would ask my grandfather was if the cats had been washing behind their ears. My grandfather would always laugh and come back with his still wasn’t sure that was a reliable predictor.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Sharon. Take care and stay safe.

  14. I know I had heard some sayings from my grandparents, but I do not recall them… thanks for sharing!

  15. our cows in the winter will eat their hay like crazy right before a snow storm! Hubs always knows to watch them! Thanks!

    • Teresa, what a great fact! I’m going to remember that one and use it in a book some day. I can have a hero tell a hero to not go somewhere or do something because the cows have been eating hay like crazy, meaning a snow storm’s due. Of course, she’ll pooh-pooh him and get stuck in the storm! Thanks so much for the idea! Have a great rest of the day, Teresa.

  16. Interesting about the cats. I have a sister who lives in southern California and she had this dog who would freeze and then start howling like a wolf when an earthquake was about to happen. He instinctively knew something was wrong.

    I also remember my Grandmother used to rub her knees when cold weather was coming.

    • Joye, that sounds like a handy dog to have around. The thought of earthquakes scare me worse than other natural disasters. I think it’s because we don’t get any warning. Tornadoes, floods and hurricanes we at least get a little warning. Thanks for stopping by today. Take care and stay safe.

  17. Hi , these are all so very interesting. Over here in west Texas I have always heard that once the Mesquite bushes start coming out , that means that the cold weather is over and that spring is actually here. I have heard people say that Mesquite bushes are smart in that way. Thank you for the chance. Stay safe and have a Great weekend. God Bless you.

  18. This was an enjoyable and fun post.
    The hornet nest high in the trees is one I have heard for many years. The same is said of squirrel nests.
    Cows tend to put their back side to bad weather whichever direction it is coming from.
    I never heard of the one pertaining to leaves on trees until we moved to the South. I have noticed the leaves tend to turn up when it is dry, often right before it rains.
    Sorry I missed the giveaway, but the post was well worth reading, giveaway or not.

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