"Ice in November to bear a duck..."

  • "Ice in November to bear a duck..."
    25.11.2010 15:54

    There are numerous and sometimes conflicting forecasts for the coming winter flying around the internet, the media and the streets.

    Some of these are based on little more than a gut instinct while others use computer modelling and analysis of atmospheric and oceanic variables, such as sea surface temperatures, extent of sea ice, the current La Niña episode and so on.

    In the past people used other methods in an attempt to peer into the cloudy meteorological crystal ball, and do so to this day.

    There are many old saws which try to predict the coming season’s weather, many referring to the behaviour of flora and fauna. November is no exception, with various sayings predicting how the winter will evolve based on the weather during the late autumn.

    Perhaps the most famous is, “Ice in November to bear a duck, the rest of the winter will be slush and muck”. It is essentially saying that if November is cold and icy we can expect the winter to turn milder and wetter.

    Several other sayings seem to complement this. For example, “A cold November, a warm Christmas” and “Ice in November brings mud in December” both indicate similar predictions.

    Contrarily, other sayings such as, “Flowers in bloom late in the autumn indicate a bad winter to come”, suggest that a very mild autumn should be followed by a harsh winter.

    Unfortunately it seems that the ice skating ability of ducks, whilst sometimes amusing to watch, is not a good predictor of the coming winter’s weather. For example, in the last 50 years or so there have been seven notably cold Novembers. Of these, two were followed by mild winters, two by cold winters, and three where temperatures were near average.

    Furthermore, the 16 very mild winters which have occurred since 1925 were preceded by one mild, 12 average, and three cold Novembers.

    These figures suggest that there is no real correlation between the weather in November and the winter to follow. Moreover, which part of November do we use? November 2010 was quite mild for a while, and temperatures only fell below average after about the 21st. They have, however, done so in spectacularly cold fashion.

    Whatever the method of prediction of winter weather people choose to use or believe, they should remember that seasonal forecasting is prone to large errors. If you are out feeding the ducks over the next few weeks and they’re sliding rather than floating, don’t put the sledge back in the garage just yet.

    By: Stephen Davenport