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blue norther

blue norther
March 26, 2018 10:27PM
It has been a long time since I have heard anyone speak of a "norther," "blue norther," or "blue tailed norther." When I was young these were common names for the weather changes that occurred in fall and winter in Texas, and anyone hearing them would know exactly what was meant. As we all know, Texas winters are characterized by periods of mild weather interrupted by strong blows from the north. Nowadays, everyone seems to speak of cold fronts, and not northers. The fact that most people get their weather forecasts from the TV news shows is of course the reason. I consider it a loss of a colorful idiom.

The basis of the term "norther" is obvious. "Blue" and "blue tailed" modifiers probably come from the fact that the frontal passage frequently is followed by a period of bright, clear skies, sometimes only after frontal clouds pass, hence the "blue tailed" moniker.

How recently have folks heard the use of these terms? Do older folks in your acquaintance still use them? Even I, though the terms were common in my formative years, seem to have lost use of them, and I regret it. I intend to make amends and restore them to my own lexicon.

Are there other weather related Texas expressions that you folks can recall from the past or present that are colorful and interesting in application? Another I remember from my youth, and relating to frontal passages also, is that people would speak of the S. Plains, and for some reason especially Amarillo, as having "nothing between there and the North Pole but a barbed wire fence." That would be ("bob war" in the Texan vernacular). If there was an especially brutal norther, maybe with snow and fierce winds, one might say, "Wow, someone let the fence down." Almost anyone would know what fence was referenced.

Dave McNeely
Re: blue norther
March 27, 2018 02:13AM
Hi Dave.

I've heard the term "blue Norther" since I was a little kid in the '40s.

I don't think it has anything to do with seeing blue sky after it blows through.

I think it was indicating that the sudden blast of cold air would drop the temperature 20-30 degrees in less than an hour. The sky was always gray and that sudden cold snap would turn you "blue" ...(think of cartoon characters turning blue in sudden cold).

I recall helping my grandmother, who lived with us, hang clothes (washed in the bathtub) on the clothesline. She would stir me from a book I was reading and tell me to help her bring the clothes inside because a "blue norther" had hit. The clothes would sometimes be stiff if they were still a bit wet when the norther came through. We'd drape them over the back of kitchen chairs in front of the open gas oven to thaw them and dry them.

....To everyone: I stopped using the Phorum some time back when it was plagued with all of the spam. I've been trying to use the forum for several months, but kept being refused. I could read but couldn't post. I requested a new password numerous times over that period and finally received an email from Phorum a couple of days ago. I'm glad to be able to post again! ....Disappointed at the lack of activity.
Re: blue norther
March 27, 2018 08:23AM
good to see you fred - I am here also -hope it comes back
Re: blue norther
March 27, 2018 12:19PM
My husband (who grew up in Wichita Falls) and I still refer to blue northers when appropriate. I've always loved the story, perhaps apocryphal, about the Federal Writer's Project sending someone down here in the 30's to write a book on Texas as part of a series of state handbooks. He didn't believe it when he was told that the temps can drop as much as 50 degrees in 30 minutes and changed it to 24 hours, much to the delight of the locals.
My late mother in law used to giggle like a school girl when my husband would call her on cold mornings to check and see if her brass monkeys had been brought in from the patio. I had a college friend from Waxahachie who called a heavy rain a "Corsicana Frog Strangler", also have heard heavy rain referred to as "Trash Movers".

Victoria Snyder Alvey
Re: blue norther
March 27, 2018 12:31PM
Fred and Wayne both, welcome back to the phorum.

Fred, I got the bit about the "blue" part of the norther being the bright blue skies that prevailed after the frontal passage from my father and other older kin when I was a kid. Another explanation I've heard concerning it was that the strongest fronts usually came through with an accompanying dense cloud bank that looked dark blue from a distance. Such a front was then called a "blue tailed" norther if the weather cleared behind, leaving a blue sky. Probably there are as many explanations as there were people who used the expression.

Regarding the bitter cold wind that swept in with the northers (temperatures could drop 30 F in an hour, and 60 F in 24 hours, resulting in a 2-3 day period of below freezing weather), my father had an expression that I have only heard from other Oklahomans, including the folksinger Woody Guthrie: "Boy, it'd nearly cut your water off." I took that to mean that it was so cold that it was hard to urinate, but I never asked my father what it meant, and it is long too late to ask now.

A brutal temperature drop like that occurred on the occasion where I fell into Cedar Creek at the Dallas zoo a few days before Christmas when I was ten years old. It was around 70 F when I was at the zoo, but below freezing and spitting snow a few hours later when I was walking from home to my brother's apartment.

We also (like almost everyone, hung the clothes on the line to dry. If the weather was cold, they would freeze. But my mother would just leave them if the weather was sunny, and they'd dry by sublimation. That won't work where I live now, in NE Washington, because it is always quite humid in winter. But it definitely did in Big Spring, Texas where my family resided before moving to Dallas during the seven year drought.

Dave McNeely
Re: blue norther
March 27, 2018 01:54PM
Hi Victoria, I've heard "toad strangler," and also that "It rained like a cow peein' on a flat rock." My father didn't say pee, but another word meaning the same thing that also starts with a p.

Dave McNeely
Re: blue norther
March 27, 2018 03:35PM
"There's a blue norther moving down from Canada, and there's nothing between it and us but some barbed wire fence in Kansas".

...I don't remember who the weatherman was who said that (most likely it's been used more than once), but I've always thought it was a great quote.


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/27/2018 03:42PM by WStewart.
Re: blue norther
March 27, 2018 06:16PM
WStewart Wrote:
> "There's a blue norther moving down from Canada,
> and there's nothing between it and us but some
> barbed wire fence in Kansas".
and all but one strand is down is what I recall.

Having worked out of doors for the past 40+ years and spending 3 years of my youth in the tropics I learned to always keep an eye on the horizon. I tend to agree with Dave the approaching cold front from the north was often signaled by a low dense blue-black cloud bank. On the Gulf Coast heavy afternoon rain storms rolling in from the ocean had a more gray tubular appearance. The storm system that produced the early 1990s Gainesville tornado passed over just before touching down and it was definitely greenish and the clouds boiling.

On another lightly overcast day with temperatures dropping the sound of thunder which was still miles away prompted me to start packing tools and equipment. In less than 5 minutes as my helper was loading aluminum ladders and 20 foot aluminum walk boards on the truck rack lightning struck an ancient oak not 10 meters away. I jumped in to move the truck to the sound of the tree splitting apart when a huge limb the size of a hog seemed to explode from the middle and shot straight upward then falling back crashing through roof, rafters and ceiling to the floor of the house we had been working on. The storm passed without any other precipitation or audible thunder. Some of the smaller limbs fell on the truck and my helper who was hanging on wide-eyed. The next day started the same way and my helper decided to seek other career options fearing I was using him as a human lightning rod.

Could not see the horizon in triple canopy jungle but could sense the subtle drop in pressure and rise in heat and humidity that triggered the daily monsoons in the months long season.

Re: blue norther
March 28, 2018 02:39PM
You're absolutely right that dramatic temperature drops mark a "blue norther."

To illustrate what a blue norther was, Texas newpaperman and humorist Boyce House (1940s-50s) used to tell this story:

"If you’ve lived here long enough, you’ve seen a blue norther. I knew a cowboy got caught out on the prairie when a blue norther started rolling in on him. He wheeled his horse around to try and outrun it. By the time he got to the barn the front end of the horse was suffering heatstroke. The rear end had frostbite."

House also talked about the Panhandle wind. "Ever hear of an Amarillo kite?" he'd ask. "It’s a cast iron bathtub with a log chain for a tail."
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