Proverbs are not reliable indicators of weather and climate — but perhaps, these old sayings can yet teach us something. If not about climate itself, then about how people perceive it.
The study has been carried out in the Sierra Nevada, in Southern Spain, which is an ideal spot for this type of study for several reasons. For starters, the area is culturally rich, and much of this culture (including linguistic culture) has been preserved throughout the centuries. Secondly, it’s a mountainous area, particularly vulnerable to climate change, so you’d expect people to notice these changes — especially as local people have traditionally had extensive knowledge about water management and agricultural production.
In other words, it’s exactly the type of place where you’d expect to have a lot of weather-related proverbs.
“I was particularly impressed by the numerous indicators (clouds, wind patterns, animal behaviour) that, still nowadays, people in the area use for weather forecasting,” says María Garteizgogeascoa who led the study
Here are some examples (translated in English):
Fleecy sky, in three days soaked;
When March feels like May, May feels like March;
Snowy year, bumper harvest year;
With the appearance of the Carduus flower, summer is over.
This type of traditional indicator is common in many cultures across the world, but they’re not exactly accurate — at least not now.
For instance, “Cuando vienen los vilanos es conclusion del verano” translates as “With the appearance of the Carduus flower, summer is over” encodes knowledge of the flowering period of the flower — end of August in cold years, beginning of September in warmer years. But with recent climate change, the flowering period of the flower has changed, and the proverb is no longer accurate.
Local people are aware of this change. “I no longer pay attention to water signals because they are no longer credible” or “In the past, cattle used to announce the rain but now they only know when it rains after they get wet, as rain now is unpredictable,” are some of the statements made by the inhabitants of Sierra Nevada who participated in this study, indicating a perception that the climate has changed.
It should be said that the study did not analyze whether these proverbs ever stood true in the first place. But what the researchers did argue is that these proverbs can be a good way to study people’s perception of climate change.
“Very few studies, and none in Spain, have ventured to study climate change at local scales through songs, stories or proverbs. However, this work shows that, despite some limitations, these traditional ways of encrypted local knowledge could be a useful source to do so and a window of opportunity to engage with local communities. During my work in the field, proverbs proved to be a useful tool to engage participants in discussions about climate change issues,” concludes María Garteizgogeascoa.
The study has been published in the journal Regional Environmental Change.