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What Is Onion Snow?

Onion planting occurs around "onion snow" time.
Onion snow is sometimes said to mean snow that occurs after the traditional time of planting spring onions.
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  • Written By: L. Whitaker
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 08 August 2014
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"Onion snow" is a regional term used primarily in the state of Pennsylvania, referring colloquially to the final snowfall before the end of the spring season. Some sources indicate that the onion snow typically occurs after the traditional time for planting spring onions, while others state that onion snow is an indicator of when the appropriate time has arisen to plant onions. In either case, onion snow is defined as a light snow that melts quickly. This regional expression is said to originate from the so-called Pennsylvania Dutch culture and language.

Three snow-related expressions, including onion snow, are unique to Pennsylvania Dutch culture. A sapling-bender refers to a wet and heavy snow that weighs down tree limbs, while a crack-stuffer is the term for a dry fine-grained snow that settles into cracks. Legend holds that all three types of snow must occur before spring has arrived.

In addition to onion snow, crack-stuffers, and sapling-benders, other weather expressions have arisen from the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect. A storm could be referred to as a herschel. The expression "dooner und blitzen" means a thunderstorm with lightning. Individuals with a Pennsylvania Dutch heritage could refer to a rain drizzle as spritzing. Likewise, an inquiry about the likelihood of rain might be phrased as "Make wet?"

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Much of the weather lore of rural areas in Pennsylvania is also due to the influence of the Pennsylvania Dutch culture. This folklore holds that the weather occurring on any month's fifth day is a predictor of the weather for the entire month. Overactive behavior by children is said to be a sign that rain is imminent, according to these beliefs; rain is similarly said to be on its way if morning fields contain many cobwebs. In the same vein, a crowing rooster in late evening predicts rainfall overnight. A cold winter is believed to be foretold by the plumpness of corn as it grows, and it is said to be warm enough for corn planting when women are seen sticking one of their legs out from beneath the bedcovers.

The term "Pennsylvania Dutch," sometimes called "Pennsylvania German," refers to a cultural group of German heritage, based on a misunderstanding of the German word "Deutsch." This group descends from southwestern German settlers brought to the area in the 1600s by William Penn. The unique Pennsylvania Dutch dialect arose from the intersection of colonial English with the German spoken by the immigrants.

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Discuss this Article

anon945944
Post 4

I have heard about the onion snow from old family members originally from Pa. What I was told is that there is a least one more snow after the green onions emerge. In my lifetime, it has been true.

anon941930
Post 3

I tell everyone to get excited because it's the onion snow and they look at me like I'm nuts. I am from PA, but I live in the Midwest now and they've never heard of it here.

lluviaporos
Post 2

@pleonasm - Yeah, there's a reason people often joke about how Inuit have hundreds of different words for "snow" (which is actually a myth). Anywhere that has snow is going to have quite a few ways of describing it, including English, even if they don't use specific words, but coin phrases instead.

Snow is just such an important part of life if you live in an area that has it. I come from a seaside town, so it took me a while to adjust when I moved inland, but I completely understand why people focus on it so much. It defines every aspect of life while it's around.

pleonasm
Post 1

It's fascinating how much English can change, even within a country or a state to reflect the origins of the people who live there. This is something that they just take for granted until they come across people from other areas.

I've never heard the term "onion snow" before, but I'll bet they use a different term to refer to the same thing in other countries where judging the last snow of the year is an important practice.

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