How climate change is rewriting popular sayings

Better later than never - but not with climate change. Temperature increases are also turning weather-related proverbs upside down.
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Remember the time when you could trust the old sayings predicting the weather? Well, climate change appears to have put a stop to that. Proverbs about the weather no longer appear to reflect popular wisdom.

Although today we have science and technology to help us know the weather, the rise in global temperature is affecting the way in which our ancestors understood and predicted what was coming. Below we analyze some proverbs from different parts of the world to see how climate change is rewriting meteorological tradition.

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Springtime sayings affected by climate change

Let’s begin with a rhyming classic from Spain: “Hasta el 40 de mayo, no te quites el sayo” (“Until the 40th of May, don’t put away your coat”). The saying advises us not to store away coats until the 9th of June, since a cold front can come along even as summer is approaching. But data now suggests that, if we don’t succeed in mitigating climate change, we will have to reformulate the saying to announce: “Until the 40th of March, don’t put away your coat."

According to Copernicus, April 2023 was globally the fourth hottest April, with temperatures higher than average in south-eastern Europe, where Spain and Portugal recorded the highest in their history during the month.

So bang goes another Spanish rhyme “En abril, aguas mil” (“In April, a thousand waters”), which refers to the month usually abundant in rainfall in many regions of the country. But 2023 has gone down in history for countries such as Spain, France and Italy having hardly any rainfall at all, causing drought alerts early in the year.


Frogs croaking in the lagoon, means rain will come real soon

“Frogs croaking in the lagoon, means rain will come real soon” is an American proverb which has lost its validity due to climate change.

For many, the croak of frogs forms part of musical backdrop to our springs spent in the countryside. As cold-blooded amphibians, frogs need humidity and relatively high temperatures to be active. In many parts of the world, this means that their song is a sign that rain is nearby.

Apparently, though, if temperatures keep rising, few frogs will be heard in the lagoons. Conservation organization WWF says, in the most recent edition of its Living Planet Index, that amphibian populations are rapidly decreasing - by up to 83%.


After the storm, comes the calm?

This popular refrain alludes to, following a difficult time or problem, you can be sure a moment of peace and tranquility will arrive. It might still be true for those moments in daily life where we face stressful situations, but it is increasingly difficult to link it to calm after storms in the weather sense.

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), global warming will lead to an increase in the most powerful hurricanes. In fact, a study attributes 10% of the rainfall left by Hurricane Ian in Florida in 2022 to the increase in temperatures. After hitting Cuba hard, the storm became even stronger as it crossed the strait to Florida and touched ground with winds of 250 kilometers per hour, at the upper limit of a Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale (the maximum rating).

Far from calm, the cyclone left around 100 deaths in the state and a trail of flooding and unprecedented destruction, even in areas used to living with tropical cyclones.


In September, you dry out or you get wet, but you always refresh

September is when we say goodbye to summer. Or it used to be when temperatures during this month were gentler. The average temperature during 2022 was, as in 2021, the joint fifth hottest September since records began, 0.88°C above the 20th Century average. Indeed, the previous 10 hottest Septembers have all occurred since 2012.

Climate change has challenged the validity of weather proverbs which have, for so long, served as guide to knowing the weather. As climate conditions become more unpredictable and extreme, the traditional signs that were once regarded as trustworthy no longer apply. The change in climate patterns, the increase in extreme weather phenomena and temperatures have created a scenario in which popular sayings have lost their ability to predict the future.