Of beastly divination and snow

  • Horses feeding amidst snow in a field in Merthyr Tydfil on 31 January. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

    The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall at a Candlemas service at Saint Michael's Church, in Camden, north London, on 02 February. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

    Hikers on the Yorkshire moors on 02 February. Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

    The forecast situation on Sunday morning 05 February. There will have been rain in westernmost regions, while snow elsewhere in the north and west will have cleared through but the red asterisks show where snow is still expected to be pushing through. A general 5-10cm could accumulate, more on hills. Image copyright MeteoGroup

  • Of beastly divination and snow
    03.02.2012 08:57


    On the second day of February Americans celebrate Groundhog Day. This follows the European tradition of Candlemas, which in turn was likely to have been adapted from the Celtic celebration knows as Imbolc.

    All three are rooted in a celebration of the lengthening days, and all three have traditions of weather divination.

    There is the groundhog, or rather succession of groundhogs, know as Punxsutawney Phil, trundled out at Gobbler’s Knob in Pennsylvania over the years to look for its shadow; and on the other side of the Atlantic there are various rhymes that infer the same thing:

    “If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, winter will have another flight; if on Candlemas Day, it be shower and rain, winter is gone and won’t come again.”

    Celtic seers at Imbolc would wonder if a snake, a bear or a badger would cast a shadow.

    Given how much of Britain was bathed in sunshine on February 2nd, then believers in the old auguries might expect more cold before winter is out.

    Well, that is true enough in the relatively short range. Another couple of cold days and frigid nights will precede a band of snow moving east to south-eastwards across much of the country during the weekend, bringing some districts their first significant snowfall of winter so far.

    Several centimetres are likely in many areas, although Northern Ireland western Scotland, western Wales, and southwest England (except for a little on the moors) are more likely to see rain. There could be 5 to 10cm accumulating quite widely away from those rainy areas, and more than that over some high ground in the north and east.

    There is no sign of any particularly mild weather in the next week or two, although northern and western areas of Britain could see temperatures rising at times with rain now and then up to about midweek.

    To the south and east cold air is soon expected to push back from the Continent, bringing the gelid conditions back. The air has been very dry during the last few days, so there has been little ice or even hoar frost despite the low temperatures, but with snow or rain having fallen it could be altogether icier next week.

    By: Stephen Davenport