Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Sun Dogs, Weather Dogs, Weather Rocks and Pogonips

I am a member of a Facebook group called Appalachian Americans and the other day a lady mentioned "weather dogs." In my innocence, and sure that this was some mountain weather forecasting strategy I had not yet heard, I asked what a weather dog was. Now those of you who know are already splitting your sides laughing I am sure. But for the rest of us who are uninitiated, here is what I learned:

A weather dog can predict the weather, and pretty much any dog can do it. To get his/her prediction, open the door and let the dog in. If the dog is dry, it's not raining. If the dog is wet, it's raining. If the dog is covered in white stuff, odds are it's snowing (unless your dog has paid a visit to the white leghorns in the henhouse). How simple! And, I would wager, a lot more accurate than the Weather Channel.

A weather rock is similar to a weather dog. Anyone can have a weather rock--you don't need to live in the mountains but you must have access to a rock. Place the rock in a position that can be viewed easily from your favorite vantage place and observe. If the rock is dry, it's not raining. If the rock is wet, it's precipitatin'. If you can't see the rock, it's foggy. If the rock disappears under a white blanket, it's snowing. And if you bust your you-know-what going out to check your weather rock, it's probably icy.

Sun dogs or solar parhelia which is their formal name really have nothing to do with the canines we know and love, mountain or otherwise. A sun dog is that odd little rainbow-looking pool of light sometimes seen to the left or right of the sun, and usually when the sun is low in the sky. Sun dogs are caused by light reflecting off ice crystals, but I have seen them in summer too so that seems odd to me. Sun dogs can be very colorful and quite lovely, or might only be a very bright spot. Sometimes (although this is something I've never seen) sun dogs appear on both sides of the sun, giving the appearance of three suns in the sky. Here is an example of a sun dog, from Wikipedia:

You can see other photos here. There are moon dogs as well, occurring in the same way as sun dogs. I do not think I've ever seen one of those.

The ancient Greeks referred to sun dogs in their weather lore; in some cultures the appearance of three suns in the sky caused widespread panic and fear that the world might be coming to an end or some other catastrophe loomed. With no information to know otherwise I can see how such an event could be frightening. You can read the weather lore of the Greek poet Aratus here. He was obviously a man who was a keen observer of the natural world around him. Which probably made him an excellent poet.

And lastly, the Pogonip. I first heard this term several years ago and wrote a post about it because the word fascinated me. I do not think one has ever occurred where I live but I would like to see one sometime because they look absolutely beautiful.You can read what I wrote about the pogonip, and the comments of readers who have experienced this "ice fog" by clicking here. It reminds me in a way of growing crystals  with charcoal, ammonia, salt and bluing.

I wonder what other unusual weather terms are used in various places? Is there something people say in your region that the rest of us might not have heard? Do tell!

Copyright 2012 Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


Jenny said...

You know I think I've seen Pogonip thought I've never heard that word before. I thought it was a very heavy hoar frost - how do really tell the difference? I'll read up some more on it - I love learning anything about nature!

I live on a warm water lake. In the winter we can get to single digits & below & we've had wind chills 20 below - in northwest Arkansas of all places! When it gets in the low 30's we start seeing beautiful steam come off the lake. With very cold temps we see hoar frost all around it. I've seen some as thick & beautiful as the pics in your links. They really do look like growing crystals - amazing!

Another strange thing about our lake is we seem to get a little lake effect snow. The lake is small, 500 acres but we can drive 1/2 mile down the road & it will be clear. Look back & there's a huge cloud of fog & snow surrounding the lake. Our plants & trees seem to put out earlier & stay on longer as well. It's like a mini climate change but it's very fun to watch through the seasons.

Rob Hunt said...

I find your sun dog moon dog very interesting. I am working way up north in the north east of B.C.I have seen some interesting sunrise and sunsets as well as moon. I will be looking in a new way now.

Nance said...

at my little cabin in Missouri, I have a weather rope given to me by friends. It even has a sign "if it is wet, if it is dry, if it is sideways take cover!" :) One cold winter I drove west, to home about 30 miles. I saw the Sun Dogs that winter. The side 'dogs' were more like fire dogs than full suns so it was like this ( O ). Loved seeing them. Now Pogonip . . . I don't know that. I know beautiful ice storms and freezing fog . . . but not the Pogonip.

JoAnn ( Scene Through My Eyes) said...

In NW Washington we have sun breaks - little times when the sun comes out on a very cloudy day. The weather forecasters even use the phrase, saying we can expect sun breaks this afternoon - and we do look forward to them. There are also very tall mountains - 14,000 feet and 10,000 feet that are often covered in clouds. And we announce whether we can see the nountains by saying - the mountain isn't out today - and everyone understands that. I love the days when the mountain is out though.

Granny Sue said...

What fun comments! JoAnn, I heard someone say that about the mountains when I was in Seattle and Bellingham about 10 years ago. Beautiful, beautiful country around Bellingham.

Rob, I hope you're taking lots of photos; I'd love to see them. I have never been anywhere close to that far north and find it fascinating--from a distance :)

Granny Sue said...

Nance, I didn't know you had a cabin in Missouri, but I can imagine the climate there is a bit different from Iowa :) Love that weather rope. I might have to get one to confirm what my weather dogs tell me.

It does sound like you get some benefits from your lake, Jenny. I know the climate right along the Ohio River is different than what it is just a quarter mile away. The farmers over there can plant earlier and harvest later, and usually have a lot more fog. I don't think I've ever seen a frost like you describe but it sounds breathtaking.

JJM said...

"Sun dogs are caused by light reflecting off ice crystals, but I have seen them in summer too so that seems odd to me." Yes, but the ice crystals are very high up, where it's plenty cold enough. Moon dogs are rarely seen because the moon's light is so much dimmer. (And it's not the moon's light, strictly speaking, but of course we all know that.)

Love this post, especially the part about the weather dog (I've seen weather towels ... ) and the pogonip, of which I'd never heard. I learn *so* much from you!--Mario R.

Wayfarin' Stranger said...

Never heard of pogonips and immediately thought hoarfrost, but followed your links and decided, guided by Mr. Google, that they are not the same. As for sub dogs, I posted photos in 2011:

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