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Keep the scraper handy but the shovel won't be as important (3 photos)

Back Roads Bill shares his nature-based, traditional knowledge inspired winter weather predictions this week as he asks the beavers – and the experts

EDITOR'S NOTE: Back Roads Bill has been busy studying the summer/fall climate signs of beaver lodges, here is his winter prediction.

Making a climatic prediction is a tricky business and this will be my eighth attempt. There are four parts to the winter prediction.

First though, contact was made with David Phillips, from Environment Canada, he has been a climatologist for fifty years, a longitudinal study in himself. The most important thing he said is related to climate change.

“For more winters looking ahead, it will not be so much about the amount of snow but the increase in the frequencies of freezing rain with milder trends.” The second-largest inland sea in the world is Hudson Bay and since the mid-1990s ice cover is so much thinner than it once was winter nights are getting warmer.

Then there are the winter lovers like Jeff McGirr a reputable snowmobile blogger and ever the optimist.

“No matter what is to come, here in Northern Ontario winter will arrive and we will ride! If you have someone who can knit you those wool socks, now's the time to put your order in. If there’s one thing you can be sure of in Northern Ontario, it’s that winter is guaranteed!”

The Farmer’s Almanac is calling for a cold winter with normal to below-normal temperatures in areas from the Great Lakes.


People would like to know when winter will start, how long it will last, the amount of snow and how cold it will be.

I prescribe to beaver behaviour. A local void in climatic prediction was created on March 14, 2013, when long-time weather prognosticator, Dokis resident, Gord Restoule passed away.

He was regarded as a wealth of what he would call “common sense,” but what scientists now refer to as “traditional knowledge.” For most of his life, Gord judged the weather through personal experiences and the “passed along” wisdom of the elders. He said with a wry smile, “You always learned by listening to the wisdom in their stories. Old Indians never waste any words.”

He would say, “The first step in making a prediction is to be one with nature. Most people don’t see the signs and are too much in a hurry.”

The behaviour of animals, birds and insects, the face of the sky and the growth of plants lead him to report a multitude of weather maxims with good accuracy.

“These are always present to those who take notice of little things.” He used the simple beliefs of his ancestors who lived and survived through a relationship with their changing environment. I learned a great deal from my mentor.

Like home building contractors there could be good and bad beaver lodge builders. Two out of the three little pigs were like that. You have to examine many beaver lodges to make a seasonal prediction. But the feed beds seem smaller when compared to other years and so does the amount of mud on the lodges – signs of a shorter and milder winter.

There were so many other signs this year, the squirrels were collecting cones way too early. The songbirds seemed to leave almost immediately when September arrived, same with the insects, particularly the moths. Wasp hives are higher up and that usually means more snow. The Blue Jays exhibited more raucous behaviour than usual and were in a feeding frenzy. The mushrooms started to bloom a couple of weeks early. Bears and the deer were moving before it was time. The geese were high in the sky meaning they are in a rush to move southward. The bracken turned brown before it is time and the winter berries are also ripening at an accelerated pace.

So here it is, there will be a lengthy fall-type of weather time period; winter weather will arrive two weeks earlier at all latitudes. Winter will be shorter with only a couple of cold weather periods. So by March break spring will be sprung. Therefore, we will save money on our heating bills and the snowmobile enthusiasts will not be happy as the freeze-up will be delayed.

Taking into consideration all the natural signs, particularly the beavers, I have during the past few years an 81 per cent success rate, that’s an A- in Ontario and within the Quebec school system this grade qualification is “very good.”

The flora and fauna seem to be at the vagaries of extreme weather changes, their innate instincts may be compromised. Your guess is as good as mine then.

Keep the scraper handy, the shovel is not so important for climbing up to the roof and get the gloves, boots, cross country skis and snowshoes ready for back roads enjoyment.