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Seasonal Reflections:  November (2)

A recent letter to the Times, from a lady in Derbyshire who keeps bees, said that the hive entrances have been blocked with beeswax in unbelievable proportions, apparently defending themselves against harsh weather to come. She maintains they are a good guide. The writer of a follow up article quoted other folk lore saying, “When squirrels early start to hoard, winter will strike like a sword.”


There is one characteristic of our weather that we can be sure about – its uncertainty! I had already written this when an article appeared in the Times titled, “Feeling a Little Chilly? This is only the Beginning” and declared, “The Met Office warned that temperatures could fall to minus 10C (14F) by the end of the week with a growing threat of widespread snowfalls across many parts of the country. The cold is likely to persist well into next month, although it is still too soon to predict a white Christmas,” and continued, “By Thursday, snow could be falling to low levels down to the South and South East, possibly even in London, although it’s difficult to say at this stage if the showers will be rain, sleet, snow, or a wintry mix,” said Alex Fox, a forecaster at the Met Office.”  Note the uncertainty! This uncertainty became the focus of the article: “The Met Office is reluctant to discuss its longer-range forecast for the whole of winter after the PR disaster of the “barbecue summer” prediction last year. However there are indications from other forecasters in the United States and Britain that this winter will not be anything like as bad as the last one. “Just because it’s cold now doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be a cold winter,” said Michael Dukes at Meteogroup weather forecasting. “It looks like the winter overall for northwest Europe could be above average, but with short bouts of cold.”  There you are; it’s anyone’s guess!



THE SEASONS: November Reflections originally written in 2010 (Continued)
So here we are rushing through the year and all the signs are there that Autumn is almost past. What is it that signifies the passing of the seasons and now, in particular, Autumn to Winter? It is simply three related things
– the reduction in daylight (and sunlight),
- the dropping of temperatures, and
- the changes in plant life – especially trees.
Technically we have only a couple of days of Autumn left. December is usually considered to be the first month of Winter. Gradually the sun gets lower in the sky each day until the Winter Solstice, the 21st of December, the shortest day. No longer is there the same warmth in the sun because of the angle it comes at, and thus everything is slower drying out when there have been dews or rains. A morning observation of the thermometer tells us that gradually the daily temperature at the beginning of the day is getting lower and the weak sun (when it is out) rarely lifts the temperatures into anything resembling earlier in the year. Already we have had several frosts
The leaves are now rapidly falling off the trees. Leaf peeping is a term that has occurred in numerous TV programmes, of American origin I believe, an autumn activity in areas where foliage changes colour.  Leaf peepers are those who participate in photographing and viewing the Autumnal changes of leaves. I must be a leaf peeper!  If that’s you also, make the most of it, some trees are already showing signs of their Winter skeletal appearance.

But there is a big area of Autumn-to-Winter growth that raises debate and disagreement. It is of the berries that grow on shrubs and bushes. Folk lore has it that many berries mean it is going to be a hard winter. How do plants know what is going to happen in four to six months time?  Yet, it appears, there are other signs.
(Reading this article at the end of the 2010-2011 Winter, we can only honour the Met Office for it turned out to be one of the peristently cold (very cold) Winters in memory.)  Yet on the subject of the uncertainty of weather forecasting, I rather like Sandi Toksvig’s tongue-in-cheek wry comment for amateur weather forecasters: “...get a rock and put it in the garden - in the morning if it is dry then the weather is clear; if it is wet, it’s raining; white, snowing; and if it has gone, there was probably a tornado.”   Yes, well....

My wife works with a girl who has a friend whose brother is a meteorologist and.....   stop, say no more, let’s not elevate this man to soothsayer or demean him as a charlatan! It’s all to do with El Nina and jet streams and .... Wow! A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. My seaweed hanging on the back porch says it will be......   

Incidentally, did you know that the last Sunday of November is known  as Stir-up Sunday. The term comes from the opening words of the collect for the day in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549 and later: “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people;”  Traditionally it is also when the preparation of Christmas puddings began on Stir-up Sunday. Sadly in a day when many of us buy our Christmas puddings directly from the store, we miss out on the family tradition of each one having a stir of the pudding mix.

And while we’re in Autumn, isn’t this glorious....
Of course, down here in this sheltered neck of the woods, we can rejoice that weather in this country is remarkably localised, as the floods in Cornwall recently showed. Surely the rest of us looked on, thankful that we were not there. If you trawl the Internet there seems to be some variety of opinion as to where the driest and warmest places are in England, but this part of the country normally rates high on the lists. Whatever it’s going to be (unless a uniquely warm and sunny Winter – an almost impossibility!) we’d better just hunker down and wait for the winds, rain and snow to pass by and signs of Spring to arrive. Perhaps the creatures that hibernate have got it right. Imagine, going to sleep at the beginning of December and waking up on March 1st. Oh dear, we missed Christmas!
With thanks to the BBC. Do you see the deliberate (???) mistake?