Tennessee winters are as unpredictable as they come. While it’s true we usually have a mild winter here in Cleveland, TN, we do get some occasional snow. Kids even hold out hope for some good snow days in March, hearing from their parents all about the famous “Blizzard of 93.” This is also referred to as the “Storm of the Century” and the “Superstorm of 1993.” This occurred between March 12 and March 14, blasting the eastern United States with several feet of snow.
We never know what March will bring, but normally it begins to tease us with some warm springlike days, buds beginning to form and daffodils popping up everywhere. But just when we begin to have a bad case of Spring Fever, old man winter slaps us in the face a few more times! As you’re beginning to enjoy some warm sunny days, it is inevitable that more cold, rainy and maybe even snowy days are ahead! Needless to say, you’ll never be more confused than a southern thermostat in the spring!
Long before there were weathermen on television and long-range weather reports, local folks of Appalachia had signs that would let them know when to plant their gardens and when to wait. Predicting spring cold snaps could mean the difference in the success or failure of their crops. If you planted too early, a cold snap could undo all your hard work and waiting too long could mean not having a long enough time for crops to grow before the first freeze. Here in East Tennessee, this seasonal lore is still used today and passed down from generation to generation.
Several predictable cold snaps happen around the same time each spring and old-timers gave them each a name. All but two of these, are named for the trees that are blooming at the time. Depending on how the calendar falls, one of these cold snaps can occur at the same time as Easter. If this happens, we know to have our winter coats ready for Easter Church services and egg hunts. My Great Grandmother Picklesimer (Mamaw Pickie) would call this an Easter Spell.
The first of the cold snaps or “little winters” are Locust Winter and Redbud Winter. These occur in mid-March to early April and occur when the Locust and Redbuds are in bloom. After having some warm sunny days, this cool, damp and windy weather can be a bit of a shock. It’s a great time to enjoy a fire in the fireplace, a big pot of soup and a skillet of warm cornbread!
Dogwood Winter occurs when the Dogwoods are blooming, usually around the middle of April. This means several days of gloomy, cool and damp weather. It can even bring in a hard freeze and yes even a flurry or two! Old-timers knew even though there are a few more cold snaps to come, it’s usually safe to plant your tender vegetables and annuals after Dogwood Winter. Our area is also rich in Cherokee heritage. Although Native Americans may not have referred to it as Dogwood Winter, they also used the blooming of the Dogwoods to know when it was safe to proceed with their spring plantings.
Blackberries are in full bloom from early to mid-May. Yep, you guessed it! This means we will see a few cool days during this time. These cooler temps are actually helpful, as the blackberries need a cold snap to set buds on the blackberry canes. We don’t mind this one as much, because we’re already looking forward to those ripe blackberries. Nothing says summertime in the south more than a blackberry cobbler fresh out of the oven with homemade ice cream. In the south, blackberries hold an honored place not just on our tables but also in our memories. For most of us, one taste of a blackberry cobbler instantly brings back thoughts of childhood summers spent picking berries. If you’re in East Tennessee when the blackberries are ripe, head out to Morris Vineyard in Charleston, TN and pick a big basket of fresh, juicy berries!
There are two more “little winters” that are perhaps lesser known these days. These occur in mid to late May, are milder than the previous cold snaps and are not named for the trees that are in bloom. Linsey-Woolsey Britches Winter was once a popular term, back when winter clothing was homespun of linen/wool, and winters were harsher. It was the last time in spring that you’d need “long johns” before trading them in for summer clothing. Whippoorwill Winter is the last of the cool weather. Around this time of year, you can hear the song of the whippoorwills in the evenings and early mornings. This is a sure sign that those long summer days of sipping a cold iced tea on the porch are just around the corner!