The Winter(s) of our Discontent

(Revised to add in more “Winters” that many of you suggested since first posting this article.  Many thanks to those who asked me to look deeper for the “other Winters” out there!) – Chris

The past few days, I’ve been asked this question more than any other…”which Winter are we in now?”

Remember, I kept saying don’t get used to the 70 and 80 degree weather.  It’s only March in Kentucky and that means anything goes.  Now, reality has set in and temperatures are struggling to even reach seasonal average (61 degrees) and looks to stay this way until we get into early April.  Even then, we’re still going to see some cooldowns along the way.

Shut the f…ront door!!!

For the various types of “Winters” according to folklore, I always turn to Glen Conner who is State Climatologist Emeritus for Kentucky but also spent many years at Western Kentucky University as a professor teaching meteorology and climatology.  In fact, Glen was instrumental in shaping what’s known now as the Kentucky Climate Center as he was our state’s official climatologist from 1978 to 2000.

Here is Dr. Conner’s breakdown of “Folklore Winters”…along with a few very regional “Winter” additions that have become part of Kentucky’s history…

January Thaw
January Thaw is a warm spell that occurs in mid winter (in Kentucky, usually late January) that produces a period when minimum temperature remains above freezing for a few consecutive days. It recognizes the incursion of a maritime tropical air mass that displaces winter for a short period. It is welcomed now but may not have been before the time of paved roads.
Redbud Winter
Redbud Winter appears to be the current cold snap we’re feeling right now with many redbuds blooming in vibrant color.
Locust Winter
Locust’s (not the winged insect) pretty white blooms will follow closely behind the redbuds as another cool snap helps pop these buds in early to mid April (see Dr. Conner’s reference to flowering locusts in the next paragraph).
Dogwood Winter
Dogwood Winter is a cold spell that occurs after spring seems to have arrived (in Kentucky, usually mid April) and while the dogwood trees are in bloom. In the northern parts of Kentucky or where dogwoods are uncommon, it may be called Locust Winter for the tree that blooms at about the same time. The climate lore name recognizes the return of a continental polar air mass of sufficient severity to feel like winter again.
Blackberry Winter
Blackberry Winter is a cold spell that occurs while blackberries are in bloom (early May in Kentucky). This folklore recognizes another, but less severe, return of a continental polar air mass after maritime tropical air masses have begun to dominate.
Stump Winter
Stump Winter simply means the point at which you usually run out of your Winter stock of firewood and only have a “stump” of wood to burn – or maybe an old piece of furniture.
Linsey-Woolsey or Linen Britches Winter
Linsey-Woolsey Britches Winter refers to the last surge of cold continental polar air in the spring (usually in late May in Kentucky). It relates to the last time during spring that winter clothing of homespun linen-wool combination had to be worn.
Whippoorwill Winter
Whippoorwill Winter refers to the very last gasp of Winter chill before Summer settles in.  This usually occurs in late May to early June when the whippoorwills migrate from Mexico northward.
So, which “Winter” are we in now?  In my first post of this article, I thought I might be on to something by calling it “Bradford Pear Winter” but I was quickly schooled that we are now in “Redbud Winter” here in Kentucky since the redbuds are in bloom.
Dr. Conner goes on to explain the “actual science vs. folklore” behind the various “Winters”…

“Similar folklore seasons are recognized in Europe and elsewhere. These folklore seasons are a combination of fact and myth. They are factual in that such hot and cold spells occur during year. They are mythical if applied to a specific time each year. There are no quantitative measurements that would allow unquestionable identification of them. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that these hot and cold spells would have been noticed before extensive climate records were available and before climatological statistics could be used.”

In other words, don’t lose hope.  Don’t be discontented it has turned cold again.  We’ll all soon be complaining it’s too hot and humid!


  1. I’ve heard old timers also talk about “Chip and Chunk” winter when you would use up the last chips and chunks of wood in the wood stove!! It would be at the end of May just before the weather turns warmer to stay.

  2. Thanks for the great column, Chris. As one who moved here from another state that just has “winter” until it’s almost mid-spring, these teases of warmth followed by teeth chattering temps are part of the charm that makes Kentucky, well, Kentucky. I always get the “winters” mixed up (even thogh I have been here over 25 years) so hopefullyy now I can keep them straight. And I like your “Bradford Pear Winter.” It should be added to the official list!

  3. Thank you so much for posting this about the different Winter’s. Folklore is something I grow up with as many others have. Some I believe some I laugh at. The weather ones I have learned to respect. As grandma said,”you live with what who learn from your elders or be in trouble.”

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