20 Signs Of A Hard Winter Ahead

Before there were weather apps for your smartphone, people looked to nature to prepare for what's to come. What signs of a hard winter are you already seeing in your backyard?

Predicting winter weather has always been important, especially for farmers and our ancestors who didn’t have access to all of the technology we have. Fortunately nature has always offered clues to upcoming weather conditions so you could prepare ahead. Today, most of us forget to tune into these natural signs.

A wonderful friend of Farmers’ Almanac’s Editor, Ray Geiger’s, Cleveland weather guru Dick Goddard put together a laundry list of 20 signs of nature that can predict a harsh winter ahead. We featured the list in the 1978 Farmers’ Almanac, and it is still relevant today.

20 Signs of a Cold and Harsh Winter

According to weather lore, if you see any of these signs, winter could be quite tough, with lots of cold temperatures and snow:

1. Thicker-Than-Normal Onion Skins or Corn Husks.

two ears of corn in their husks on a table
If you grew corn or harvested some onions from the garden, check the skins to see if they’re thicker or thinner (it doesn’t count with store-bought onions, which may have been grown elsewhere).

2. Woodpeckers Sharing a Tree

3. The Early Arrival of the Snowy Owl

Snowy owl - Owls
Snowy Owl

4. The Early Departure of Geese and Ducks

geese flying south at sunset

5. The Early Migration of the Monarch Butterfly

6. Thick Hair on the Nape of a Cow’s Neck

dairy cow

7. Heavy and Numerous Fogs During August

foggy lake
Pay attention and count the number of fogs in August. Folklore says the number will correspond to the number of snowstorms the coming winter.

8. Raccoons With Thick Tails and Bright Bands

9. Mice Chewing Furiously To Get Into Your Home

mouse in a hole in a home

10. The Early Arrival of Crickets on the Hearth

Crickets are not only a symbol of good luck but they can also tell us about the winter weather ahead.

11. Spiders Spinning Larger-Than-Usual Webs and Entering the House in Great Numbers

12. Pigs Gathering Sticks

13. Ants Marching in a Line Rather Than Meandering

14. Early Seclusion of Bees Within the Hive

15. Unusual Abundance of Acorns

Acorns on the ground in fall
An abundance of acorns is a sign of things to come. Seeing green acorns? Here’s what it means.

16. Muskrats Burrowing Holes High on the River Bank

Keep an eye on Susie and Sam!

17. “See how high the hornet’s nest, ‘twill tell how high the snow will rest.”

18. The Size of the Orange Band on the Woolly Bear (or Woolly Worm) Caterpillar

According to folklore, if the woolly worm caterpillar’s orange band is narrow, the winter will be snowy; conversely, a wide orange band means a mild winter (all black caterpillars are not woolly worms). And fuzzier-than-normal woolly worm caterpillars are said to mean that winter will be very cold.

19. Squirrels Gathering Nuts Early to Fortify Against a Hard Winter

A squirrel with a nut in his mouth foreshadowing a hard winter ahead.
Are the squirrels in your backyard furiously gathering and storing nuts? A hard winter may be in store.

20. Frequent Halos or Rings Around the Sun or Moon Forecasts Numerous Snowfalls

Related: What Is A Moon Halo Or Moonbow?

What About Persimmons?

Winter weather lore says to cut inside the seed of a ripe persimmon—the shape of the cotyledon will tell you what’s in store for winter. Read more about how to predict the weather with your locally grown persimmon here.

Join The Discussion

Are you seeing any of these signs in your backyard?

Do you know of any other signs from nature that foretell a harsh winter?

Share with your community here in the comments section below!

Can pine cones predict the upcoming winter?

Snow lore – what lore points to snowy conditions?

Extended winter forecast – not folklore, but Farmers’ Almanac forecast

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Farmers' Almanac - Weather forecasting
Peter Geiger

Peter Geiger is the Editor of the Farmers' Almanac. Read his full biography.

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Carolyn Graston

Hi – I am from Port Clinton, OH on Lake Erie. I found a wooly bear worm today (10/21/23) It was black on both ends and with a wide bank over most of the center but it was not a bright orange, instead it was very, very dark. Any ideas of what this could indicate for the winter. Thank you , Carolyn

Robert Parkhurst

I live in upstate New York and I’ve seen three woolly bear caterpillars that are totally all black this year just in the past two weeks so I think that’s a good indication we’re in for a hard cold winter


It sure is! We hope everyone stays safe this winter!


It says above (in #18) that ALL BLACK caterpillars “ARE NOT” Woolly worms/bears.


I believe that they are Woolly worms because here in central Virginia we see them from all black to all blond and everything in between and when we see one color we don’t see anything else that year.


My crab apple tree has a rather prolific crop when snowy winters are coming. This year was the most prolific crop I’ve ever seen


What region are you from? Looks like you will be seeing a lot of snow!


Water bug’s here in the southeast, Midland City Alabama , when I see a lot of these in August. The winter is going to be cold with snow. My prediction is 1976, two feet or more.


We have ants really bad here in the southeast

Alan Zwicker

Where is all the information on Canada?


I live in the mountains of North western Virginia, and squirrels are going nuts here, storing up. Also, our Oaks are putting out acorns twice the amount of last year. My mums are blooming. Normally we get a few 4′ snows, but the last two years were very disappointing. I believe a hard winter is afoot.

Sandi Duncan

It’s always a great idea to look at nature and see what she may be telling us! Bundle up and let us know what happens!

Mary Davidson

Howdy! Mary from Central Texas Hill Country ? I have several live oaks, over 20+ and this year has been a bumper crop of acorns. More acorns than I ever seen in over 20 years living here. Ours are brown tho- anybody know what that means?


There is lots of lore about acorns, this article may offer some insight. https://www.farmersalmanac.com/attack-acorns-mean-19359

Bird of Paradise

I have seen Scrub Jays gathering Acorns in the summer lot and Darked Eyed(Oregon)Junos arriving before a hard winter


It is smart to watch your local animals and compare their behavior to the season ahead. Thanks for sharing this. Birds often seem to know before we do!


I work outside in northeast Oklahoma and am able to see wildlife frequently. I told my wife I thought it was odd to see.Canadian geese flying south in the middle of August beginning September. I heard my grandad say a couple of times in the 70s & in the 80s that means it’s gonna be a rough winter. Sitting here in the midst of one of the worst winter storms in over 40 years I know he was right again.

Last edited 1 year ago by Rick

Not sure what y’alls predictions mean but here in the deep south, were having 80° temps during the day, run our a/c’s all day long, run around the house in shorts & a tank top and here it is December 12th! Is winter ever gonna get here???


Has anyone else ever heard you’ll get how ever many #s of snowfalls as the date of the first snow? For instance, first snowfall was November 15 so we’ll have 15 snowfalls this season.


We had our first snow this year in Oklahoma on December 22. I’m not saying anything rude but I don’t think I’d depend on that ol wives tale


I noticed last week, near the state line in north alabama. There were several squirrel nests in the very tops of trees. I haven’t seen nests built that high in years. I also counted 11 foggy mornings this past august.


Leaves. My back yard is full of leaves. This is the second round. The first round blew off, I now can’t see the grass for the leaves and most of the patio is covered. The same thing has happened at my church. The lawn crew came to blow the leaves off of the yard and parking lot, some spaces couldn’t even be seen. I contacted the owner of the company who sent a crew back out yesterday because it didn’t even look like the leaves had been blown off the previous week. A couple of friends have mentioned all of the leaves in their yards. NW Georgia, a little more than an hour from Atlanta.


Two addl.things::::: my many years here, I get a lot of birdlife. With an abundance of bugs and seeds still in Sept., when the birds start visiting my empty bird feeders or sitting side-by-side on my window sills chirping mid-Sept. and following me around the farm, , I know winter is going to be worse this year. also I have a lot of mountain ash trees, so when there are tons of berries drooping the branches down about the end of August, there is my second sign I look for.


Our persimmons tree the seeds showed spoons in all the seeds


I live in Chesapeake Virginia but on the edge of the city, closest to the NC line/outer banks.

I have acorns GALORE and they are huge, the pine cones dropped early and were in perfect shape. When I say perfect, we can decorate these for Christmas and you have yourself a nice little Christmas decoration. I have my squirrels seeking more than ever and coming out at all times of the day, this is odd for them, because they would normally only come out once in the morning, and once in the evening. My raccoons are very very fluffy vibrant but not only that I’ve gotten bold. I do live in a suburb/city, but I have several that will come to me specifically and allow me to hand feed them ( I don’t encourage this behavior though) the bugs are spastic and the pine needles are not falling as much as they would normally.

We have dealt with less rainfall and hurricanes here so maybe it could be tied to the water level but nothing compares to the acorns


I live in south Ga, but have noticed the birds eating less seeds at the feeder and more bugs (protein). Also a bumper crop of pine cones falling, and squirrels hiding pecan sooner. Hard winters are different for us that northern folks, but we’re not built for freezing winters!??‍♀️


I have never seen as many acorns as I have this year. We picked up a 3 gallon bucket full last year, this year a 5 gallon bucket with 1000’s still on the ground.


The pine trees in the front of my house have extra long pine needles. Maybe 5 to 6 inches. Other years they seem to be shorter?

Rodney B.

I’ve never seen so much sap dripping out of trees in the Fort Worth area. Even roads beneath pecan trees are black where it has fallen. And the leaves of lower trees are covered with it.
Does this predict a certain coming weather pattern?

Philip Harris

I live near Bryan tx and am seeing the pack ants, I call em working overtime like never before. They have a deep trail wore down carrying to multiple ant mounds. Wondering if it’s signaling hard winter.

Sammy G

I live in the quad cities, which is eastern Iowa along the Mississippi River about 175 miles due west of Chicago… Can you please enlighten me as to what type of winter is heading my way ? I have noticed large flocks of geese heading out of the area . Does that mean a nice snowy cold winter is ahead of us ? Please advise….I would love to see a nice cold snowy winter …..

Ginger Johnson-Gibbons

The Orge faced spider in OK builds it’s webs at night and takes down by morning. They usually build ‘up’ out of the way. That is a sign of normal Oklahoma’s winter. If you can walk thru them the warmer the winter. The last 2021 winter were built at waist height and we were BBQing at Christmas. This has been my go to for 20 years and never wrong.


i live in waynesboro PA. i have not seen ducks, geese, catapillars, monarch butterflies or really any type of bees. the only things that i am seeing is stink bugs and spotted lantern flies. lots of spider webs on the bushes. not sure how to predict. havent had a good lasting snowfall in years. but the apples trees on the other side of the eastern mountain are very plentiful and hanging.

Mark potts

Shrubs heavy with berries,no birds on the feeders so no chick’s to feed,hail already and no bees in the garden

Dorothy Reiber

Swallows leaving early. Also orioles and wrens.


For over a week now in Redmond Washington, a fir tree in my yard, the squirrels have been dumping buckets and buckets of fir cones daily, accidently caught a squirrel in one of my rat traps, his buddy in or nemesis moved right over to the tree and speeded up production. They have always dropped a few cones, but never like this…..


Sure sign of a harsh winter: TV weathermen saying it’s going to be a mild winter.

Ramona Sheehan

Uh oh. Seen in Springfield, VT


Liberty in southern KY. Trees heavy with apples. Foggy mornings. 2 woodpeckers in the trees in front of my house all this week. Crickets galore.


I’m in North Ga and we hadn’t had a good winter in years. This winter will be no different because La Nina is not going anywhere for a while. Although I have noticed the spiders this year and crickets are chirping a bit early…. katy dids are not loud anymore. That started a couple weeks ago. Deer are very active right now too at our house. See herds of them daily. We’ve had more than enough rain and I hope La Nina keeps the tropical systems out to sea as she has been doing thus far!


We’re deep in drought here in east-central Minnesota, near the Minneapolis metro area (we’ve averaged 2″ of precip. every month, so total precip. has been only about 7″ YTD), so nothing is making sense to be able to predict what kind of winter we’ll have (the leaves started changing and falling in early August, but drought causes plants to do that so they can focus on root growth to reach receding water tables), so I would assume that if we’ve been in drought for nearly 2 years, that will continue. Below-normal snowfall (northern MN will be buried–they’ve been getting all our rain), and above-average temperatures are my prediction. The squirrels are becoming more active, but they seem to be right on schedule. Other than that, I’ve seen nothing to indicate anything out of the ordinary for our winter. Ducks and geese aren’t even congregating, yet. It’s still far too warm (~90° temps forecast for the upcoming weekend again). Climatologists predict an end to La Niña in November. We can only hope. We’re in desperate need of rain and snow.


La Nina is not going anywhere until January or February at the earliest. They predicted she’d be gone this past spring (and that was a bust) and she now is predicted to strengthen before she starts going down. We are in a triple dip La Nina which is not uncommon.

Joy Clements

Haven’t seen many acorns but apple trees are loaded and already falling off the trees plus lots of pine cones I am in west central Wis more to the north than south wonder how bad our winter will be


I’m in the mountains of Montana. We’ve had a lot more rain spring/summer then normal. It’s still hot 90s, but bees are busy nest building. All the old timers say we’re due for a brutal winter after all the rain this year. Last winter was pretty mild so it will be interesting to see what comes our way. Geese are starting to head south.


I have been seeing Monarchs. Is this early for South Louisiana?

Jo-Anne Leupold

Wasp/ hornet nest found high in the tree in July 2022 Alberta, Canada


Morning coffee.. early August.. noticing large beautiful spider webs visible with a coating of dew… and thought.. feels like an early fall…

Jan Lynn

I’m in northern Cali and I’ve never had so many spiders in my place as I have this year!!

Sandi Duncan

Hi Jan,

Wonder why the want in! Will be interesting to see what the winter brings. Thanks for leaving a comment here.

Ray Robertson

I also saw the winter forecast for my neck of the woods, which is Southeast Missouri, and if it holds true, we are in for a whole lot of everything, snow, cold, below normal temps, everything. We are located right at the junction of 4 different regions, and none of them look like a mild winter. It’s all good though. I love cold, snowy winters! Maybe we will finally have a white Christmas!!

Sandi Duncan

Hi Ray,
Hope you check out our forecast too. Happy winter!


Nature knows.
Thanks for sharing.
Stay warm…


I’ve already noticed squirrels and chipmunks gathering food for the winter. I also read the forecast for 22and23. This winter looks like it’s gonna be a doozy. Cold and snowy. I’m in northern lower Michigan.

Sandi Duncan

It certainly does!


I’m reading comments from the ’21-’22 winter but it’s August ’22 as I write this, I’m in the mountains of South-central West Virginia. I’ve already seen several flocks of geese flying south back in July. I’ve noticed nuts were falling from trees already in July too. I haven’t found any wooly caterpillars yet, just the all black ones – hopefully my chickens won’t scarf them down first. This month already started out with foggy mornings (1st & 2nd) so I hope it doesn’t keep up but our ground is heavily saturated from days and days of downpours making it more humid feeling.

Sandi Duncan

Thanks for sharing your observations C.C. This is a popular story so there will be older comments, but yes keep counting those fogs. We do hope the weather clears for you soon so that things can dry out. Stay safe.

Josh A

Lots of the same. I’m in the mountains in California. Lots of woodpeckers sharing trees, early migrations, bright raccoon tails, darker deer and I’ve never seen so many acorns in many years.

Lisa L.

From your mouth to God! I am on the central coast and I hope fervently for valley rain and mountain snow!

G in Atascabama

I too noticed a huge acorn fall in Oct/Nov 2021 – I am in Central California, we need the rain… badly

Tracy M young

It’s been a lot of acorns this year that I haven’t seen in years

Annette Brandt

I am in virginia and the deer are a deep dark gray, I have been told that is a sign of a cold winter on the east coast.


I live in Michigan surrounded by oak trees. Had so many acorns it was hard to walk in the yard.

Sanders Vickey

Persmission have spoons in then in south ms where I live.


I’m getting an over abundance of brown acorns 10/16/21 in southern Oregon about 3 times as normal and with the dry summer I’m also surprised by how large the green apples are on the tree. We do not water them at all.

Sharon I.

I just now found a wooly caterpillar on my driveway, sitting as still as possible. I read the part about the narrow brown band and wide brown band. Without photos for comparison, I can’t tell if mine is narrow or wide. The black tips seem to be equal in size and the brown band takes up the rest of the space. I guess that would be a wide band. Wish I could see a picture of a narrow band for comparison. I live in Chattanooga, Tennessee (on the Georgia northern border).

Susan Higgins

Hi Sharon, if the orange band takes up more space than any of the black on the caterpillar, consider that a wide band.

Tena T Crawford

Lots of pecans shells on the ground. And half eaten green pecans. More than I usually see this time of year.


I live in Kentucky and drive an hour everyday and have has to drive through thick fog every morning for months also I have caught several pictures of rings around the moon at night ! How can we prepare better for winter ?

Susan Higgins

Hi Amanda, the signs that our ancestors looked for are definitely alive and well in Kentucky, it sounds like. The Farmers’ Almanac is a great tool to help you prepare for winter. You can order your copy here.

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