Skip navigation
CSUMC Friends Newsletter, Spring 2004, Vol. 2, No. 1 Become a member of the CSUMC Friends CSUMC home page Contact us Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures Home Page

Mackerel Sky, Not Three Days Dry

Wisconsin Weather Stories logo
Weather Stories site

“To us, this is common knowledge. When you see deer feeding heavy and early you know there is a storm coming. I often wondered if that had to do with the fact that they are covered with so much hair and they can feel the difference in atmospheric pressure. They must have that ability. You know, whenever there is a storm coming, the animals feed. If you always see deer out all the time, you know darn well there is a storm coming.”

When Russ Bailey—Port Wing native, fisherman, logger, butcher, hunter, and 7th grade science teacher at Northwestern Middle School—shared this local knowledge with UW–Madison Folklore Program Director Jim Leary last summer, he exemplified the focus of the Wisconsin Weather Stories project. What signs do Wisconsinites use to predict the weather? What sayings come about because of those observations? What atmospheric principles might be behind Wisconsin weather lore?

Russ is one of five K-12 teachers who have been working with a team of Madison-based folklorists and atmospheric scientists over the past year. These teachers were selected from a pool of applicants and represent a broad academic, cultural, and geographic range: Mary Kornely teaches 4th grade at Denmark Elementary School, Mary Jo Fuhry coordinates elementary science education at Milwaukee Indian School, Teyulelu Cornelius is the Talented and Gifted Specialist at Oneida Tribal School, Karyl Rosenberg teaches science at Nicolet High School in Glendale, and Russ Bailey regularly incorporates riveting weather stories into his science classes in Maple.

Each teacher works directly with a folklore or atmospheric science student who is part of the Madison-based team. These exceptionally skilled undergraduates write curricula, conduct research, create digital material, and assist the K-12 teachers as needed. For example, Claire Schmidt, who graduated with a folklore certificate in May, visited Russ’ classroom in October 2003 to help train his students in interviewing skills. Louie Holwerk and Jamie Yuenger are the other folklore students in the project, and Holly DeRose and Kristopher Karnauskas are the project’s atmospheric science students.

The teachers attended a two-day training session in Madison during Summer 2003 led by project leaders Anne Pryor of the Wisconsin Arts Board, Steve Ackerman of the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, and Jim Leary of the Folklore Program. The workshop included lectures on project philosophy, local culture, and narrative, and a presentation by elementary school teacher and folklorist Mark Wagler from Randall School in Madison. There were sessions illustrating how to conduct interviews, do fieldwork, and access weather resources. The teachers also evaluated an on-line lesson that features a first person account of the Armistice Day Storm of 1940 by duck hunter Harold Hettrick. One more work session with the teachers will occur in Madison in April ’04.

Wisconsin Weather stories team
The Wisconsin Weather Stories team met in Madison in August 2003 to develop a plan to collect the weather stories.

Wisconsin Weather Stories will conclude in June ’04 with a website developed by the Madison team that contains curricula in three areas: severe weather stories, weather sayings, and occupational lore of meteorologists. The interdisciplinary lessons will illustrate how weather lore makes strong curricular links between the narrative arts, earth science, and social studies. "The long-term goal is an integration of teaching storytelling and weather together," Steve Ackerman said.

The website also will contain content submitted by the teachers: student-collected weather sayings and stories; interviews with local knowledge bearers; and lessons written on the storm that sunk the Edmund Fitzgerald, fire storms in the north-south corridor along Lake Michigan, the 1967 “Ice Bowl” in Green Bay, and Oneida traditional weather lore. The website will be free and available for public use on the CSUMC, WAB and CIMSS websites.

Major funding for the Wisconsin Weather Stories project is provided by the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment out of the UW Office of the Provost.

"The weather is such an all-pervasive kind of phenomenon out there in the world," said Jim Leary. "People talk about the weather in their everyday lives, they tell weather-related stories and they use weather metaphors." Listen and look for the weather lore that’s common to your community’s local knowledge. When the wind is from the west do the fish bite the best?

Anne Pryor, Ph.D., is the Folk Arts Education Specialist at the Wisconsin Arts Board.

Back to Top

Questions about accessibility?
Last updated: August 11, 2003

Documentary Discs: Swissconsin and Downhome Dairyland Wisconsin Folk Music will soon be accessible online Faculty profile: Janet Gilmore Wisconsin Weather Stories Director's Column Staff Profile: Dawn Hamre Regional humanities leaders meet in Lincoln Book on Wisconsin cafes will be available soon Access to folk arts projects about to improve Dialect tapes are being digitized at UW–Madison Previous issues of the CSUMC newsletter Midwestern folklorists gather in Illinois