Groundhogs, osage oranges, acorns - winter’s on its way

November 10, 2017

Did you ever see a skinny groundhog? Not me. They're always furry and fat, low-slung and move deceptively quickly for cover. They like natural wild growth for protection and they like hedgerows. Sometimes they're (mistakenly) called hedgehogs.

One of my favorite hedgerows - those wonderful narrow lines of trees and shrubs and other natural cover between fields that wildlife love - divides the Lingo-Townsend corner at Kings Highway and Clay Road from the Lewes Board of Public Works wellfield. It's a classic, self-sustaining hedgerow of entangling osage orange trees and lots of other accompanying briars and brush. It's probably been there for at least a full century, if not two.

As I drove by the other day, I noticed heaps of distinctive, green osage orange fruits lying in the grass at the Kings Highway end of the hedge. Osage orange takes its name from the color of its wood, not from the brainy-looking and generally useless fruit.

Seeing the plentiful fruits made me think that the forecasters calling for an average winter ahead might be aligning with nature.

They reminded me that Kathy said her high ground woods at Love Creek - filled with tall oaks - has a floor carpeted with acorns. Old-time weather observers often say that a heavy crop of acorns - called the mast - portends a tough winter ahead. Lots of red holly berries can also provide a clue. I'm not sure there's any validity to those observations, but it's more fun than listening to the weatherman.

Farmer's Almanac and National Weather Service forecasters are calling for a snowy and cold winter for the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, and they're calling that an average winter. Why? Think Einstein. It's all about relativity. Relative to the last few winters, a snowy and cold winter for our region would feel a lot tougher than the mild ones we've been experiencing. But on average, snowy and cold winters are nothing unusual for us. We will see whether this week's cooler and rainier weather continues descending into the next few months to bring us snow and freezing weather.

Season's first freeze

This week's weather is bringing the first freezing temperatures of the new season. Time to bring in the house plants and pick whatever vegetables and fruit are still on the vine.

The ocean moderates our temperatures, so our first freezes come later than in inland areas. But all in all, we're pretty average, and that's a blessing.

Here's what October gave us in Sussex County according to statistics gathered in Georgetown by Accuweather. Normal average temperature for October is 54.2 degrees. It was warmer for us this year with an average October temperature of 59.6. A high of 79 degrees in the last week of the month boosted that monthly average. Normal high for the last week of the month is 66 and normal low is 43.

How about precipitation? October could hardly have been more normal, and at this point in the year, our total precipitation is also right on the money. In October 2017 we had 3.31 inches of rain compared to a normal October measurement of 3.26 inches.

So far in all of 2017, Accuweather has measured 39.51 inches of rain. The normal total is 39.31.

This week's expected rain will push us toward Sussex County's annual total average rainfall of about 43 inches.

That makes our area a great place for growing plants, and it's why the Delmarva Peninsula has long been a region of great natural abundance. If groundhogs could talk, they would nod in the affirmative.

On a final note, I want to wish my good friend Hazel Downs Brittingham a happy 90th birthday, on Nov. 12.

No one knows and loves the history of Delaware's Cape Region, Cape Henlopen and Lewes any more than Hazel. Her eyesight might be failing, but her mind and memory are sharper than ever. Her willingness to guide researchers so enthusiastically keeps her inner light shining brighter than the local lighthouses so symbolic of her work through her first nine decades.

  • Dennis Forney has been a journalist on the Delmarva Peninsula since 1972 and has been writing his Barefootin’ column for The Whale and then the Cape Gazette for more than 30 years. Contact Dennis at