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What Is Onion Snow?

Onion snow refers to a late-season snowfall that coincides with the springtime emergence of onion crops. This fleeting blanket of white often serves as a final nod to winter, gently covering the awakening soil. As these snowflakes dissolve into the warming ground, they nurture the budding plants. Wondering how this impacts your garden's growth cycle? Let's explore the effects together.
L. Whitaker
L. Whitaker

"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 onions. In most places, onions are planted in late March or early April. Onion snow is defined as a light snow that melts quickly. This regional expression is said to originate from 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.

"Onion snow" is a colloquialism in the state of Pennsylvania and refers to the final snowfall before the end of the spring season.
"Onion snow" is a colloquialism in the state of Pennsylvania and refers to the final snowfall before the end of the spring season.

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?"

Onion planting occurs around "onion snow" time.
Onion planting occurs around "onion snow" time.

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.

Onion snow is sometimes said to mean snow that occurs after the traditional time of planting spring onions.
Onion snow is sometimes said to mean snow that occurs after the traditional time of planting spring onions.

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 descended 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is "onion snow"?

Onion snow refers to a light snowfall that occurs in the spring, typically after farmers have planted their onion crops. This type of snow is common in regions with a temperate climate where a late-season snow can follow the onset of warmer weather. It's often seen as the last snow of the season and is usually not significant enough to cause damage to the newly planted onions or other hardy spring crops.

Is onion snow harmful to spring crops?

Generally, onion snow is not harmful to spring crops. In fact, it can be beneficial as it provides moisture to the soil without causing the severe temperature drops that can damage plants. Hardy vegetables like onions can withstand the light covering of snow, which often melts quickly due to the warmer ground temperatures of spring. However, more delicate plants may require protection if a heavier or late-season snowfall is expected.

How common is onion snow, and where does it typically occur?

Onion snow is most common in regions with a temperate climate that experience four distinct seasons, such as the northeastern United States. While there are no specific statistics on the frequency of onion snow, it is a well-known phenomenon among farmers and gardeners in these areas. The occurrence of onion snow can vary from year to year, depending on the weather patterns and the timing of spring planting.

Can onion snow be predicted, and how should gardeners prepare for it?

Onion snow can be somewhat unpredictable, as it depends on the fluctuating weather patterns of early spring. However, gardeners can stay informed by monitoring local weather forecasts and being aware of the typical climate trends in their area. To prepare for a potential onion snow, gardeners should plant hardy crops that can withstand a light frost and consider using row covers or other protective measures for more sensitive plants if a significant snowfall is anticipated.

Does the term "onion snow" have any historical significance?

The term "onion snow" has historical roots in agricultural communities, particularly in the northeastern United States, where the timing of the last snowfall often coincided with the planting of onion crops. This traditional knowledge has been passed down through generations of farmers, who observed that the occurrence of a light snow after onions were planted signaled the near end of cold weather, thus marking a point in the agricultural calendar.

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Discussion Comments

anon1006594

Pennsylvania Dutch is a misnomer for Pennsylvania Deutsche, i.e., German. The ancestors of today's Amish, Mennonite, and other Anabaptists are not from the Nederlands or Holland.

anon1006436

Loved finding and reading this - life is strange these days, and it’s sweet to find something that reminds me of my days as a kid and my grandparents referring to snow this way. It snowed in PA today - maybe it’s a little early for an onion snow, but it definitely a branch bender. Thank you!

anon995040

Onion snow is actually referred to snow that falls after you plant

your onions if you plant them before St. Patrick's Day. So you can't have an onion snow before 3/17.

anon945944

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

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

@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

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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    • "Onion snow" is a colloquialism in the state of Pennsylvania and refers to the final snowfall before the end of the spring season.
      By: Peterfitzgerald
      "Onion snow" is a colloquialism in the state of Pennsylvania and refers to the final snowfall before the end of the spring season.
    • Onion planting occurs around "onion snow" time.
      By: Natika
      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.
      By: andersphoto
      Onion snow is sometimes said to mean snow that occurs after the traditional time of planting spring onions.