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When I'm wondering about weather folklore and historical events this is the man I go to. With more than 50 years of statistical and observational research, he's the dude! When it comes to lunar cycles, woolly bear caterpillars, insects, bugs, and animals, he tracks them, records them, and establishes ties to weather patterns. Only one person takes climatology to a level like this. He even has a lifetime achievement award from the National Weather Service for his devotion to data and science. His name is Steve Gottschalk by way of Lowden, Iowa. He's a knowledgeable and interesting man. I'm grateful to him for lending his unique perspective to the site. Steve's "wild" world of weather can be found regularly right here on Take it away Steve!

The Muskrat As A Weather Prophet?

I found this item in an "Iowan" weather periodical dated November 1904. I thought it was interesting. A weather prophet up in Minnesota used the muskrats to predict the upcoming winter. Weather folklore states that -

"Built by the muskrat in autumn, a small house reveals a mild winter and a large one a bitter winter."

"It is a sure sign of a lot of deep snows for winter, if the muskrats build their house high."

In November of 1904 the weather prophet said that the muskrat's houses were flimsy affairs meaning an open mild winter. Here is what the following winter was like here in Iowa.

December - the state's average temperature was 23.3 degrees which was normal. Cedar Rapids had 8 days with 0 degree readings, the coldest being -11. The state's average snowfall was 12.8", well above normal. Cedar Rapids had 20.0" of snowfall for the month. There was a statewide blizzard from the 26th-28th which was the worst since 1885 in some locations. Strong winds up to 40 mph blew the snow into 5 foot to 10 foot drifts blocking many roads and the railroads for several days. Visibility was down to 4 rods at time. The livestock suffered.

January of 1905 was the coldest since 1893 with an average temperature of 11.0 degrees. There was no general thaw. Belle Plaine had 17 days with 0 degree readings and Cedar Rapids had 15 such days with the coldest reading being -12. The state's average snowfall was 11.2" which was well above normal. Iowa City had 17.5", Belle Plaine had 16.5" and Cedar Rapids had 13.1".

February was very cold with a state average temperature of 12.5 degrees. For most locations, 12 to 16 of the first 19 days saw readings of 0 or below. Anamosa and Belle Plaine got down to -32 and and Cedar Rapids had -27. The state snowfall averaged 15.3". Belle Plaine had 22.8" of snow for the month, Cedar Rapids had 18.8", Clinton had 18.0" and Amana had 15.7" The snowfall drifted badly during the month.

For the winter months (Dec.- Feb.), the state's average temperature was 15.6 degrees, well below normal. Cedar Rapids had a total of 39 days with 0 degree readings for the winter. The state's average snowfall was 39.8". Belle Plaine had 69.8" for the winter and Cedar Rapids had 51.9". The observer from Pocahontas commented in February that the muskrat prophet had failed miserably.

Top 10 Coldest Decembers

Going through the state's temperature records that go back to 1873, I found the 10 coldest Decembers and they are as follows. Five of the top 10 occurred during my record keeping. There may have been other cold Decembers in earlier years such as 1856, 1859, 1871 and 1872?

1. 1983 - 8.5 degrees

2. 2000 - 10.0 degrees

3. 1876 - 11.7 degrees

4. 1985 - 12.2 degrees

5. 1886, 1909, 1989 - 14.2 degrees

6. 1917 - 14.3 degrees

7. 1963 - 14.6 degrees

8. 1924 - 15.2 degrees

9. 1914 - 15.5 degrees

10. 1979, 1880 - 15.9 degrees

Top 10 Snowiest Decembers

Going through the states' snowfall records that began in 1887, I found the 10 snowiest Decembers and they are as follows.

1. 2000 - 25.5"

2. 2009 - 24.1"

3. 1961 - 17.7 "

4. 2008 - 16.3"

5. 1897 - 15.9"

6. 1887 - 15.2"

7. 1909 - 14.1"

8. 1985 - 13.7"

9. 2010 - 13.5"

10. 2007 - 13.4"

What is interesting is that 5 of the snowiest have occurred since 2000 and 7 of them since 1961.

An Old Country Almanac For The Week Of December 1-7th

The week of December 1-7th usually sees 2 days with measurable precipitation. It can range from 0 days to 5 days. The chance of seeing 1" or more of precipitation on any one of those days is 13%. The day with the greatest probability of seeing precipitation is the first with a 43% chance and the day with the least is the 7th with a 25% chance. During this week we usually have 2 clear days, 1 partly cloudy day, 4 cloudy days and 3 windy days.

Dec.1st - the moon dangles below Jupiter this evening. " The direction of the wind on the first 3 days of December shows whence the wind will blow during the 3 following months."

Dec.2nd - on this date in 1982, a rare December tornado produced F1 damage in Des Moines County striking a home, mobile home and some outbuildings. Look for warmer temps., rain or snow and some wind.

Dec.3rd - "December changeable and mild, the whole winter will remain a child." In 1856, a 3 day (1-3rd), blizzard with heavy snow, wind and bitter cold swept the state. There were numerous fatalities and heavy losses to the livestock.

Dec.4th - "If it rains on Sunday in December, before mass, it will rain the whole week." In 1998, this day was unseasonably warm with the temperature hitting 73 degrees at Burlington and Keosauqua.

Dec.5th- In 1924 a powerful winter storm battered the state for 3 days(3-5th) with ice from the S.W. to N.E. parts. Ice accumulated to 2" thick. An incredible number of trees, telephone poles and wires were totally destroyed . Look for colder temps., rain or snow and some wind.

Dec.6th - " December cold with snow, good for the rye." In 1939, record warm temperatures with 74 degrees at Thurman, 73 at Shenandoah and 71 at Sioux City.

Dec. 7th - the Full Cold Moon hangs above Mars this evening. In 1994, (6-7th), a major winter storm produces ice and sleet from Red Oak to the Quad Cities. Trees and wire were down. Dubuque had 12.3" of snow.

That's all for this edition. On the "wild" side of weather, I'm Steve Gottschalk.