Is the "Onion Snow" a Thing of the Past?


Photo: "Gardening Know How"

by Lesley Misko

You used to hear it often around these parts this time of year.

“Don’t forget to plant your onions before the onion snow.”

“This is the onion snow.”

“I got my onions in just in time for the onion snow.”

You still hear it in the more rural parts of the school district, but not so much in town these days, as gardens have become more the exception than the norm and lots of folks have moved to the area from more urban places.

I first heard the phrase “onion snow” back in the seventies when I married and moved to Bally and learned vegetables don’t simply show up in plastic bags. We had a large garden, and it came equipped with scallion-like onions that resurfaced annually. Our neighbors always searched the weather horizon for the upcoming onion snow. To my New York City bred ears, the expression sounded folksy and poetic, and eager for my first gardens to be successful, I wasn’t inclined to ignore local wisdom.

I learned that in general, the term “onion snow” refers to a late season snow around two inches or less, that falls as winter is transitioning into spring. It often occurs around St. Patrick’s Day and is usually the last snowfall of the year.

Explaining in more detail, The Farmer’s Almanac says, “’Onion snow’ is a term originated by the Pennsylvania Dutch culture and language, and it refers to a snowfall that occurs after the spring onions have been planted and comes right as they are sprouting. Others say that this late spring snow is an indicator for when it’s a good time to start planting onions. Either way, the snowfall is defined as light and melts quickly, and is usually the final snowfall before the end of the winter season.”

Given the unusually warm weather that has brought far more rain than snow to the Boyertown area this year, I wondered if the onion snow has become only a memory of the past, a victim of global warming. I checked in with retired Boyertown Area School District Earth Science teacher David Fisherowski. He is an experienced and capable amateur meteorologist with a loyal following of local folks who have more faith in his forecasts than those that air on the 6 o’clock news.

Commenting on the likelihood of an onion snow this year, Fisherowski’s comments a week ago were surprising: “There are some big-time indicators appearing to indicate a cold period beginning somewhere around the 17th and continuing for 10-15 days which means through Easter. Some AI modeling indicates a good storm on the East Coast with substantial snowfall I 95 and west during that period.”

Given the temperatures right now, Fisherowski seems to be on target, so I thought I’d check in one last time to see if an onion snow is still on his radar. Here’s the final scoop: “The cold now is getting pulled back to the Midwest after this latest push through here. I have not abandoned hope for an East Coast event centered on Easter weekend or shortly thereafter. The Euro model was leaning towards that, and the AI model has been consistently showing it for the last three days. This is probably the last chance for any type of salvation for winter.”

Get those onions ready to plant!

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