Friday, February 12, 2016

Happy St. Swithin's Day, and the coming dry spell

It might not rain again until mid-August, if you believe the legend.

Happy St. Swithin's Day, and the coming dry spell


No mention of showers appears in this afternoon's official forecast, and while a respite may be welcome after all that rain, the avid weather folklorist may find the timing disconcerting.

Today, as colleague Joe Gambardello reminds, is St. Swithin's Day, and how could we forget? Legend has it that if it doesn't rain on July 15 it will stay dry for 40 days. That would not be good for the region's lawn and gardens.

Of course, it could be worse. The legend states that if it does rain, it will continue for 40 days.

Before we delve into scientific questions, such as how one defines "rain" and "dry" and precisely how one would verify such a forecast in any given region, let's look at the big picture.

It is safe to say the legend is bunk; the scientists have a hard enough time with this 40-day stuff.

Not a whole lot is known about Swithin, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia entry posted on the site.He was believed to have been a counselor to Egbert, a king of the West Saxons, and to have been buried next to the north wall of his cathedral, the better to have raindrops from the eaves fall upon his grave.

It is known that he was canonized around the turn of the first milennium.

He is survived by a well-known folkloric rhyme, which evidently is the source of the legend.

St. Swithin's day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St. Swithin's day if thou be fair
For forty days 'twill rain nae mair.

It is entirely possible that it will remain hot around here for 40 days, but don't expect it to stay dry. We are too close to water sources for any dry spell to last that long, or at least one would hope.

Incidentally, the longest dry spell in Philadelphia lasted 29 days, according to Gary Szatkowski, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service in Mount Holly. That one occurred way back in October and November of 1874.


Inquirer Weather Columnist
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About this blog

Everyone talks about the weather, and here we write about it.

When we’re around and conditions warrant, we’ll keep you updated about what’s coming, but we will do our best always to discuss weather and climate developments in context and remind you that nothing in the atmosphere happens in a vacuum.

Tony Wood has been writing about the atmosphere for The Inquirer for 26 years.

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