Is this blackberry winter?

J. H. Osborne • May 12, 2020 at 3:00 PM

Have you been wondering which “winter” is to blame for the latest blast of cold weather? We looked to the Tennessee Historical Society to try and find out. Here’s some of what we found on the society’s website, regarding seasonal cold snaps as spring grows towards summer:

• They’re referred to as “Tennessee’s Little Winters” in a short article there, which explains “in the days when most Tennesseans still worked on the farm, reading weather behavior from the signs was a survival skill. Farmers depended on folk wisdom for when to plant their crops and gardens.”

• Methods for predicting when the time was right included recording temperatures and other weather patterns over the years, as well as noting when certain types of plants began to bud each year. “Today’s scientists would call this “phenology” — the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life,” according to the THS’s article. “The small blips they observed in the shift from winter cold to summer heat revealed noticeable fluctuations that happened year after year. Called “singularities” in weather parlance, to be recognized, a singularity has to occur during at least 50% of years. Blackberry winter is a long-established singularity.”

• “Tennessee’s early farmers named little winters for natural, and in one case cultural, phenomena. Here’s a list of the most common “singularities” of spring, with dates based on Middle Tennessee.”

• “The little winters occur later in the spring in the higher elevations of East Tennessee’s mountains, and earlier in much of far West Tennessee.”

• “Locust Winter – Some connect this little winter to when leaves start to appear on locust trees in early April, and others to when the trees bloom in May.”

• “Redbud Winter – Mid-March to early April, when the redbud trees bloom.”

• “Dogwood Winter – Mid- to late April, when the dogwood trees bloom. Often a heavy frost falls in dogwood winter.”

• “Blackberry Winter – Early to mid-May, when blackberries are in full bloom. In the Tennessee mountains, this often coincides with the last frost of spring, which can kill new plantings on the farm.”

• “Whippoorwill Winter –Mid- to late May, when the whippoorwills can first be heard in the twilight of evenings and before dawn.”

• “Cotton Britches Winter – Late May or early June, when the linsey-woolsey (linen and wool) pants worn in cold weather were put away and farmers changed to the light cotton pants of summer.”

Source: The Tennessee Historical Society.

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