(This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 29th September 2017, & the Malton Gazette & Herald on 27th September 2017)
If you read my column in August about temperature, you might remember that I talked about the excitable tabloid headlines in June predicting a long heatwave for the summer (if only…). Some of those headlines also predicted an extreme winter, like this subtle and understated one from the Daily Star Online from 3rd June: ‘UK faces 3-MONTH heatwave before SNOWIEST winter in years.’
Reading that might have had you shivering with dread, but in my experience, these scaremongering declarations rarely turn out to be accurate, and are based on flimsy science that has been skewed to fit an attention-grabbing headline.
My dad, as he explains in his column from September 25th 1976, had come across a far more accurate and reliable source of advice about the coming weather. It was an old bloke he’d bumped into while walking in the lovely village of Rievaulx near Helmsley one September a few years earlier.
“There’s gahin to be a snow shower or two in December, and t’frost’ll come on t’third, I reckon. Thoo’ll see,” said the old fellow, and he advised my dad to take note to see if he was right.
It turned out he was deadly accurate, and intrigued by this, Dad sought him out again to ask how he calculated his predictions. Although reluctant to share his method, he eventually revealed that it was based on the appearance of what he called ‘snow mist’. He tried to describe what exactly that was, but his lengthy dialect explanation just bamboozled Dad, although he did deduce that whenever this mysterious mist appeared, the old man used mathematical calculations based on whether the moon was on the wane or not, and whether it was new or full.
Dad never did find out what the snow mist was, and guessed it was either a circular-shaped mist seen among the trees or valleys, or perhaps a misty circle around the moon, but he couldn’t be sure, and sadly the old man died without my dad ever getting to the bottom of it.
We northern folk do love a weather prediction based on superstition, folklore and certain behaviours of plants and animals. One of our most famous amateur forecasters was good old Bill Foggitt of Thirsk, who was somewhat of a mythical meteorological hero during my childhood, and was famous for using things like snails, pine cones and seaweed to come up with his projections. Bill came from a family steeped in traditional methods of predicting the weather, their interest having been sparked in 1771 by a flash flood that swept away the nearby town of Yarm. Bill’s great-great-great-grandfather wanted to understand why it had happened so they could foresee and prevent similar tragedies in the future. Bill became the ‘go-to’ man for natural weather forecasts in 1985 following his public contradiction of the Met Office who had prophesied an Arctic Winter. Bill, who by now had his regular ‘Foggitt’s Forecast’ spot on Yorkshire TV, declared they were wrong as he he’d seen a mole pop up through the snowy surface, indicating a thaw was on its way. Foggitt was right, and his reputation was sealed. He died in September 2004 aged 91.
I’d like to say thank you those readers who have written in welcoming me to my new role. Your good wishes have been so reassuring and I know my dad also appreciated all the letters he received while writing this column. He replied to as many as he could, and I will do the same. I have already responded to letters which the paper has passed on to me, using email where an email address was in included, so I hope they have been received by the senders. As well as nicely stroking one’s ego, the letters often suggest answers to mysteries posed in these columns, so I wonder if anyone does know what the strange September ‘Snow Mist’ is, and where it might be seen? My own research leaves me none the wiser, and obviously Dad never got to the bottom of it. Let’s hope the mystery of the mist might be solved one day soon!