Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

November 5, 1922. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 58(6): 3-W. Half of Forest Field and Stream.

Real Indian Summer Comes Only After Squaw Winter

By Sandy Griswold.

Invariably in this especially favored section of the country, a large majority of the people are wont to call any real delightful spell of weather, for instance like that which we have been favored with during the greater portion of the past month, Indian summer. However, they are all wrong, and right now, although it may be dark, bleak and chilly, it is the unquestioned period for the dawning of this poetically titled aftermath of October's golden days, sweeter than those just closed.

According to archaic traditions Indian summer never sets in until after we have had squaw winter, with its cold winds and flurries of snow, and which we have not yet had. The frosts came uncommonly late this fall, and the trees still hung heavy with foliage, and pansies, dahlias, heliotropes, with many other garden flowers, were in bloom clear up to the end of the past month.

Yet, what is Indian summer, this belated interval of soft, balmy weather, which, with few exceptions, succeeds the first bitter reminders of the oncoming winter? While this is difficult to answer, meteorologically, it is quite easy to affirm that it is the mellowest, quietest, most dreamful and divine season of the entire twelvemonth and frequently, in this particular latitude, runs far into December.

I am enabled to say, however, that the characteristics of the season, when it appears in all its glory, are a mild and genial temperature, gentle southwestern breezes, unusual brightness of the sun, extreme brilliancy of the moon, a clear, blue sky; sometimes half hidden by a veil of gray haze; daybreaks redder than the splotch on the blackbird's wing, and sunsets laden with golden fleeces, the wooded valleys aglow with the fires of richly tinted leaves, still clinging to the listless limbs, or lying where they have fallen; a holy stillness throughout all nature's walks, and an intuitive sense in every devout soul of the Father's goodness to his ungrateful children. These are the days of which Bryant sang:

  • "When the sound of dropping nuts is heard,
  • Though all the leaves are still,
  • And twinkle in the smoky light
  • The waters of the rill."

What is Indian summer and what causes it? Well, I will say this much - one scientific theory is to the effect that in the month of September the water in the higher latitudes begins to congeal, and in doing so a vast amount of latent heat is dispersed through the atmosphere. There are, at the same time, two sets of warm air currents flowing - one from the torrid zone northward and the other from the polar regions southward. These two currents meet about midway in the temperate zone, near the forty-fifth parallel of north latitude and in the collision the warm, condensed current in some measure descends. This afford a solution, to an extent, of the warmth, as well as the calmness; the softness and the dryness of the Indian summer. The other theory is that the first severe frosts of autumn put a sudden check to the immense vegetable perspiration that has been going on all summer, and this preserves the heat of the atmosphere by diminishing the radiation of the heat that takes place more slowly in dry than in moist air.

There is a sudden and universal diminution of the moisture that was given out from the leaves of trees and other plants before the frost had destroyed them; for the evaporation caused by the drying of fallen leaves and herbage is comparatively slight, and ceases a few hours after exposure to the sun. The atmosphere being dry and the radiation of heat proportionately small in quantity, all these circumstances, if no unusual atmospheric disturbances occur from any other hidden cause, unite in producing a sudden and universal accumulation of heat. And these, while they are scientific explanations, do not account for the other characteristics of our Indian summer - the smoky condition of the atmosphere and the redness of the evening skies at this season.