the Winter of 1977 was considered
the Year of the Blizzard
and many called what we had
the Blizzard of the Century.
I couldn't remember the exact date,
so I had to Google it up.
It was January 28th, 1977.
I was only 18 at the time.
The day before,
I remember watching the local weather on TV
(the was no Weather Channel
at the time)
and they said
it was going to be horrible:
a very strong low-pressure system
was going to move straight north
from the Florida panhandle/Alabama border area,
producing winds up to 75 mph.
It was, in effect...a white hurricane.
It seemed many large trees virtually blew sideways
and in an area containing a lot of big pines,
that meant a lot of snapped trees.
You see, pine is very soft wood.
Wherever icicles formed,
they formed horizontally due to the wind.
I remember this very well
as my Dad made home movies of the blizzard.
And I've seen them over and over.
A few days after the blizzard was over,
I was walking in the front yard of my Dad's house
and noticed a very large bald-faced hornet nest
in a white pine tree.
Typical bald-faced hornet nest
I was not only amazed
that the tree survived the blizzard well,
but I was also amazed the nest survived, too.
But most of all I was astonished
at how high the hornets built the nest:
this nest was a good 50 feet
above the ground!
I'd never seen bald-faced hornets
build a nest so high before.
Although we had no more blizzards that winter,
the rest of the Winter of '76-'77
did indeed turn out to be severe.
Was there a correlation between the two?
At the time, I thought
"Of course not."
But I never forgot that nest.
So each autumn,
I'd start watching bald-faced hornet nests.
I'd watch how high
they'd build their nests off the ground.
Hopefully, you NEVER see one up this close!
And I discovered
a direct correlation
between how high they build their nests
and how much precipitation that area gets that winter.
I say "precipitation"
because I don't think they can tell
if the winter will be mild or cold.
But considering that
- at least here in Ohio -
most of what falls each winter is snow,
I think that's what we're talking about here.
And it's not just the nests I
I ask around to family, friends and co-workers,
asking how high the nests are they've seen
they've seen any).
And they're all built the same height in a given area.
In the last 29 years,
I've seen a few years
where these hornets build in low shrubs
(maybe a foot or two off the ground)
during late summer and fall
and the following winter was very, very mild.
Other years they'd build 30-40 feet in the air
and we'd have a severe winter.
It seems we'd get an average winter snowfall
if the height was between 15 and 20 feet.
In 2004, I found one in my neighbor's tree
that was built about 25 or 28 feet high.
We had a pretty bad winter,
but nothing that broke records.
Last year, 2005, I learned something new:
in September I found hornets had built a nest
about 30-35 feet up in a tree.
I figured, "Uh-oh...an awful winter."
But I was cleaning up the leaves
in my backyard in November
and saw one built under the eaves
on the back of my barn.
And it was about 8 feet off the ground.
It was new and not very big.
It didn't look quite done.
I was a little discouraged at what I saw because,
after what I'd seen all these years,
this didn't make sense.
Was I on a 28-year wild goose chase?
I did have a theory,
and it turned out to be true:
December was terrible...very snowy and cold.
The rest of the winter was actually quite mild.
It all made sense:
They can only figure how severe winter will be
a few months ahead of time.
The high nest looked ahead to December,
the lower nest to this past January and February.
So if I'm able to see a nest built in early autumn
and find a second one built later,
I can actually come up
with an even more accurate prediction.
So, what does this winter hold here in Ohio?
I don't know.
Quit laughing or rolling your eyes.
The fact is, I just haven't seen any yet!
I think once the leaves are off the trees
I'll see one.
And I promise I'll let you know.
How high are any bald-faced hornet nests
you've seen recently?
Maybe I can determine
(or you can,
using the info I've just given you)
how snowy your winter will be.
* * * * * * * *
Just a postscript...
Tornwordo was wondering about
the habitat of these hornets,
where exactly they could be found in North America.
Here's a good map I found showing just that!
Note how widespread they are.
Looks like they only place they aren't
is dry parts of the continent:
the Great Plains and parts of the Rockies,