Farm Progress

Weather Wise: Let’s set the record straight on a very old weather saying.

Andy Eggert

March 17, 2018

2 Min Read
SPRING FLOWERS: This butterfly bush likes to bloom when it gets warm. See if you can find a butterfly. Here’s a hint: Look directly in the middle of the picture.

Do April showers bring May flowers? The phrase has been known for centuries, dating back as far as the mid-1500s in a poem by Thomas Tusser. He’s the same person credited with “A fool and his money are soon parted.”

The phrase “April showers bring May flowers” is also included in a different form relating March and April, in Geoffery Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” from the 1300s. The phrase has some meteorological basis, as April is generally much rainier than March in England.

But is it true? In the simplest sense, yes, since flowers need water to survive. But spring flowering is much more strongly tied to changes in temperature rather than changes in precipitation. Rain, while necessary for plant growth, isn’t the limiting factor for flowering.

Warmer springs
A pair of studies in Massachusetts and Wisconsin found that recent warming trends are strongly correlated to earlier dates of flowering. As springs get warmer earlier, flowers bloom earlier. The Wisconsin study found that among 23 native plants, the mean flowering date was May 7 from 1977 to 2012, but in 2012, the flowers’ average blooming date was April 13. So instead of April showers bringing May flowers, warmer Marches brought the flowers out in mid-April.

In short, April showers are certainly helpful in growing flowers, but temperatures in March and April are much more important in determining when flowers bloom.

Showers are defined by the National Weather Service as sudden rain events where the intensity of rainfall varies from time to time. This rain is often accompanied by rapid changes in the appearance of the sky.

Storms, on the other hand, are defined by NWS as more disruptive events that occur in nature.

Both can bring precipitation. However, when people think of the old saying “April showers bring May flowers,” they typically think of gentle, soothing rain.

Eggert works for the Indiana State Climate Office. He writes from West Lafayette, Ind.



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