Frosty, but no snowman

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 27, 2001

Features Editor

Not often does Mother Nature sift snow down on the South at Christmas time.

In fact, only a few people today can remember even a flutter of the white stuff on Christmas Day. But this year, Jack Frost did whistle Dixie with his icy breath and Pike Countians woke up to a frosty Christmas morn.

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The overnight temperature dipped into the mid-20s while the children were tucked all snug in their beds and Ol’ St. Nick was shivering and shaking down the chimneys. Christmas day was clear and bright, but the temperature stayed in the 40s, making it a "seems-like-Christmas" day.

The same weather pattern held in Pike County the day after Christmas, which was perfect for keeping in the holiday spirit while returning those Christmas gifts that were too large or too small or just too "not you."

The forecast for today and Friday is much the same with highs in the upper 40s. However, Jack Frost will return overnight, bringing temperatures down below freezing and adding an extra chill with westerly 10 winds at 10 mph.

Frank Mathews, Banks weather watcher for WSFA-TV, said this year has been an odd one as far as frost is concerned.

"We haven’t had ice but twice this year,

both mornings at Christmas," Mathews said. "If I didn’t have a thermometer, I would know we had frost because it was the death of my green tomatoes."

According to Mathews, this is the first year

"in ages that we’ve not had ice before Christmas."

"I used to say we can always count on having a frost before Christmas," he said. "But, after this year, I can’t say that anymore."

As for snow, Mathews said there is little reason to hope for that.

"One year we had a big snow on Valentine’s Day," he said. "I don’t keep up with dates on snow, so I don’t know the year, but I do remember Rich Thomas (WSFA meteorologist) said we got eight inches of snow.

I don’t know how he determined that. We got 15 inches in Banks. I know because I went out and measured it with a yard stick."

So, snow would be a rare oddity at Christmastime, but sunshine and warm weather would not.

"Oh, I’ve seen a lot of really warm Christmas days," Mathews said. "The kind of days you could go in swimming. But, the Christmas I remember most for its warm weather was in the late 1960s."

In April of that year,

Mathews "set out" watermelon plants with runners and little watermelons already coming on the vine. Because of early planting and the late stage of the plants, on May 28, he pulled his first watermelon – a small one, but a watermelon no less.

"In July, I had to go in the hospital to have a kidney stone removed," Mathews said. "I left with doctor’s orders that I could ride in a car, but I couldn’t drive. Now, he said I couldn’t drive a car, but he didn’t say a word about a tractor."

So, Mathews climbed on his tractor with a disc harrow behind it and cut in his watermelon patch.

He had another row of young watermelons coming along to keep him in melons all summer long. What he didn’t expect was that the warm weather would to continue until Christmas.

"The seeds from the rotten watermelons, and little ones that I had cut in, came up and produced a crop of watermelons at Christmastime," Mathews said. "On Dec. 11, I had watermelons as thick as dog’s hair. Forty to be exact. We cut a watermelon on Christmas Eve that year. That’s the only time I ever had watermelon for Christmas. We had watermelon from May 28 until Christmas Eve. That was a strange weather year."

To gage the kind of winter that can be expected in Pike County, one might look to nature or old wives’ tales.

Mathews said he doesn’t put much trust in the old ways of forecasting weather but he has heard if, during hunting season, a squirrel is killed and it has thick fur, you can expect a cold winter. Or, if during bird season, a bird is killed that has a lot of pin feathers, it’s going to be a hard winter.

However, those who don’t hunt, might have to look to a road kill to see what the winter holds. Examining a possum’s fur for thickness will reveal as much about winter weather as a squirrel’s pelt, Mathews said.

Jim Frank Hughes doesn’t depend on dead, furry possums and squirrels to forecast the weather for him. He either pulls an ear of corn or looks to the sky.

"When the corn comes on you can look at the ears and they’ll tell you what kind of weather we’re going to have," he said. "If the kernels are poking out

the top of the shucks, it’s going to be a warm winter. If the sucks are all pulled up over the kernels so you can’t see them, it’s going to be a hard winter."

If the ears don’t tell you, the eyes will.

"When you see killdees flying low across the field, you’ll know it’s going to freeze and turn cold," Hughes said. "I saw them about four days ago and we got a freeze. You can depend on them to let you know when a freeze is coming because they get out ahead of it. I imagine those birds are in Miami by now – where it’s good and warm."

Hughes said he pulled an ear or two this summer and the shucks were pulled up tight.

So if "the kernel" is right, "we’re in for some cold weather ahead."