Spring ‘winters’: Are we at two down and two more to go?



It’s been a real rollercoaster of a spring so far from a weather standpoint, with one constant: a lot of precipitation.

National Weather Service figures show through last Thursday 9.80 inches of rain (and a bit of snow) had fallen since spring began in March, roughly three inches above the 30-year average.

Spring officially started about five weeks ago, but we have already had at least a couple of those sharp cold (or cool, depending on your personal thermometer) spells, which brings me to the real subject of this column–spring “winters.”

By anyone’s standard, we’ve already gone through at least two winters–redbud and dogwood–and each of those appeared to have a bump in them, which leaves us with at least a couple more.

By a bump, I mean there was a cold spell, a brief warmup and another little cool spell, all within a few days’ span. 

Most of our spring winters, with the exception of the final one, are based on whatever form of vegetation, tree or berry, is blooming at the time. Redbud and dogwood winters can be fairly close together, or further apart, with Mother Nature playing her usual part in that. Regardless of how clearly defined those two winters were this spring, the good news is we’re done with them this year.

The remaining question is: how many more winters do we have left?

Weather junkie

I have written this column and conducted my very unscientific research supporting it due to a request from a loyal reader in the Hermitage Springs area. Many of you who know me personally or have read the paper for a while have probably figured out I am a weather freak. I pretended to be Bob Lobertini, the old channel 5 weatherman, when I was growing up, and was one of the happiest people in the world when the Weather Channel started broadcasting. That ranked a close second all-time for me on subject-specific channels, falling only behind ESPN. 

Internet weather websites are the latest, greatest thing going for us weather freaks, and we have one of those on the HORIZON website, which is linked to WeatherUnderground. That information on our site is really from Celina, not some town 60-80 miles away. 

In the last couple of years, I have become a weather observer/reporter for an organization which feeds information to the NOAA weather system, among others. So when the request came for a story about our “winters,” I was ready to roll, although it took me a week to get rolling. But, I digress.

‘Winters’ vary some

One thing a bit of research and thought told me was that these winters we are used to here are very regional in nature. For example, there are many places in the U.S. where it’s spring on the calendar, but it’s still snowing on a regular basis, or due to elevation, there are still several feet of snow on the ground. Spring for these folks is a very short season. realistically speaking. 

A quick internet search on part of our subject matter here told me the number of recognized spring “winters” can even vary from state to state. A website based in neighboring Kentucky didn’t mention redbud winter at all, but that is our first one of the year here, according to knowledgeable Clay Countians.

A week of questioning many people I ran into, and one in-depth conversation with someone who has seen 80-plus years of this annual occurrence,  has brought me to the conclusion that we have two winters left–blackberry and “linen britches,” apparently our only non-vegetation based winter.

Linen britches winter is one that should evoke some memories for many. Again relying on an internet search, linen britches is one we’ve shortened through the years from a longer term. We Appalachian folks have a habit of doing that, but that’s for another column. 

According to a story written for a Western Kentucky University website by  Glen Conner, state Climatologist Emeritus for Kentucky, “Linsey-Woolsey Britches Winter refers to the last surge of cold continental polar air in the spring (usually in late May in Kentucky). It relates to the last time during spring that winter clothing of homespun linen-wool combination had to be worn.” 

Apparently we have shortened that to “linen britches” through the years. 

There is also a mention of “Whippoorwill Winter” on the Old Farmer’s Almanac website, but I could never figure out what part of the country was being discussed. As far as I know, we don’t recognize that one here or we call it something else.

Do you have opinions or facts on our spring winters? I’d love to hear from you, and we’ll update everyone.