Mares Tails

Photo: Carl Young

Thanks to random 60-degree MLK Days in St. Paul or a subzero St. Paddy's in Amarillo, it can be tricky to know when spring is finally on its way. So we've got seven unexpected but reliable ways to tell winter is over.

Clouds That Look Like Mare's Tails

"Spring weather is generally the most active and potentially violent," says Carl Young, meteorologist and member the TWISTEX tornado-hunting team featured on Discovery Channel's Storm Chasers. As warm fronts move in, high-altitude clouds form that look like mare's tails—or ropes of long, thin, wispy hair. These are ice clouds, and once the temperature really warms up, these clouds go the way of Frosty the Snowman and blow away.
Man looking in the mirror in the bathroom

Photo: Thinkstock

2. A Rash of Inexplicable New Kittens
Spring (and summer) is known as kitten season in pet adoption circles, says Katie Jarl, the deputy director of public relations for the Humane Society. Why? Cats—like sheep—generally have their babies as soon as the weather warms. Which means that in many areas, spring comes in like a lion and out like...a kitten.
pear blossoms

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3. Pear Blossoms
Most of us know about the Japanese cherry trees, usually found in botanical gardens, which explode into blizzards of pink petals. But right in your own neighborhood, look for pear blossoms, says Nina Bassuk, professor of the Urban Horticulture Institute at Cornell University. Pears are much more common than cherries (because they're easy to grow) and burst into tiny white flowers just as the weather turns warm, even before forming leaves.

Photo: Thinkstock

4. Discounted Flat-Screens
The fiscal year for most Japanese manufacturers ends on March 31, says Mark Di Vincenzo, author of Buy Ketchup in May and Fly at Noon: A Guide to the Best Time to Buy This, Do That and Go There. So April 1, electronics corporations start introducing new models of TVs, DVDs, gaming systems and computers into the marketplace, leading stores to slash prices to unload older versions. The paradox is, of course, you'll have to choose between your bright and shiny new electronic device (and the couch that goes along with it) and the bright and shiny world outside.

Photo: Thinkstock

5. The Delectable Scent of Ozone, Wet Clay and Organic Molecules
Spring means spring showers—usually followed by that subtle, intoxicating "after-rain" smell in the air that can cause you to drop your umbrella and wander the sidewalks senselessly sniffing. Peter Heaney, PhD, former president of the Mineralogical Society of America and professor of mineral sciences at Penn State, says this potent all-natural perfume usually comes from a mixture of odors: ozone (created by lightning as it transforms O2 into O3); wet clay (a class of minerals with their own "earthy" scent and taste); and grasses, trees, flowering plants and mosses, which, when wet, release "a complex bouquet of organic molecules that we associate with the vegetable world." Hmm...if only we could bottle that.

Photo: Thinkstock

6. The Guy with the Shield and the Club
At sunset, look for Taurus and Orion, both of which will be really high in the sky this spring, says David Kornreich, professor of astronomy at Ithaca College. Thankfully, Orion is that rare kind of constellation that looks like what it's supposed to look like: a guy with a shield and a club. To find him, try to spot his belt, says Kornreich, which is made up of three bright stars in the southwestern sky that form an almost straight line. Once you've identified that, note that the thing he looks like he's about to club is Taurus. Or, you could use this handy-dandy map of the night sky.

Photo: Thinkstock

7. Strange French Greens
Similar to spinach but with bigger leaves, sorrel is due to be the hot new green. Like nettles, dandelions and ramps, it falls into the category of once-humble, weedlike vegetables that are now considered delicacies due to the rise of the "eat everything local" moment, which arose from the regular "eat local" movement. Raw sorrel has a strong, distinctive flavor, both lemony and a little bitter, says Richard Hirshen, chef and former president of the Chico Food Network. His favorite dish to use it with is minestrone. "The soup has so many flavors that the sorrel doesn't overpower it." Another reason to try it: The French love sorrel. And these would be the same people who invented the éclair.

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