Predicting The Weather

Tom Poland

Posted 3/8/24

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer

This pine cone expects dry weather. (Photo by Tom Poland)

Seems the TV weather guys get it wrong more often than right. Nor do they predict the same forecast. As one fellow put it, “If you don’t like the weather forecast, try another station.”

I bring up radar of the Southeast USA to see if squall lines, fronts, and green blobs of rain are coming my way. Works pretty good. But here’s a question for you. How would we know what the next few days will be like if we’re cut off from electricity and have no civilized way, I’ll put it, to forecast the weather?

Enter the mighty pine cone. My relationship with pine cones goes back to childhood. When I was old enough to climb a tree, that’s just what I did. I must have climbed 1,000 pines and not once did I fall from a tree. That’s a remarkable statistic because I should have fallen a lot.

Why? Because Dad turned my squirrel-like ways into a business. He’d send me shimmying up pines to gather green pine cones. I had to go out as far as I could on limbs. Then I had to stretch way out to pick the hard, green prickly cones and drop them to the ground. Dad put them in a burlap sack and the forestry service paid cash for them. This harvest took place all over the South. People gathered green pine cones so foresters could grow pine seedlings, which matured fairly fast into towering pines. The South had a new cash crop—pines to pulpwood to paper.

The story behind the story took place during the Great Depression. That’s when Georgia chemist Dr. Charles Herty developed a chemical process for making paper from Southern pines. Landowners throughout the Southeast began planting fast-growing pines for paper production. Across the Southeast odiferous pulp mills sprang up using acidic sulfate to make paper from pulp.

Dad got in on the action. All those years ago, Dad and I were putting Al Roker, Willard Scott, and Jim Catore in a croaker sack. I never knew a pine cone could predict the weather. I did a little digging and learned that an open pine cone is a sign of good weather. In damp conditions, pine cones close to better protect the seeds inside. When dry weather arrives, a pine cone’s scales open. When it all comes together those little helicopter-like seedlings ride the wind and spiral to earth.

Hold on a minute. I’m going outside to see what the pine cones are doing this morning.

Okay, the pine cones are closed tight. Could rain be on the way? Yep, a glance at the National Weather Service shows a big green blob coming over Alabama heading my way. Your way too.

This column sprang to life when I noticed a brown cone wedged into a small eyebolt at a most historic place: Indian Field Methodist Campground near St. George, South Carolina. My initial impression was that someone stuck it there as a decoration. No, although it is pretty, it’s functional. It serves a purpose—predicting the weather.

Pine cones are nature’s hygrometer, the five-dollar word we apply to instruments that measure the humidity level. A glance at my fancy Accurite Weather Station says the humidity level right now is 92 percent. Accurite and pine cones are in accord. So forget watching the dueling, dancing, smiling weather forecasters. Line up three or four pine cones in a window sill and keep an eye on them. If dry weather’s coming, they’ll open. If rain’s coming, they’ll close.

Now I know what you’re thinking. “Hey, these cones are dead.”

Well guess what. Even after pine cones fall to the ground, they keep responding to the humidity. No batteries needed. No TV needed. Just keep an eye on those amazing pine cones.

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