Word Play: Nature

This is from an article I read about magical sounding words that have to do with the earth or weather.


Have you ever looked up at the night sky and seen a large halo around the moon? This is what’s termed a moonbroch, and it is a sign of an approaching storm.

Oh, and a broch is an old term for a Scottish circular stone tower, so you can see how the Scots came up with the term, a halo being circular and all.

Sugar weather

Now, let’s jet set to the Great White North for the meaning of this phrase. In Canada, when they have nice warm days but chilly nights, that’s known as sugar weather. Why?

Well, that type of weather is just right for getting the maple syrup running in the maple trees.

Hunch weather

This term dates back to the 18th century. Basically, we’re talking about drizzle or winds that are strong enough to make you hunch over when you walk.

Bundle up and dream of spring vacation in the Bahamas. Winter’s bound to have some real hunch weather ahead.

Monkey’s wedding

Ever experience sunshine and rain at the same time? These weird weather anomalies have been known to be called sun showers, (resulting in a rainbow, no doubt).

However, in South Africa, a “sun shower” is also known as a monkey’s wedding. You may kiss the bride?


The virga phenomenon is when you can see that it is raining, but it evaporates on the way to the ground and ends up changing back to water vapor before you can feel it.

When it rains and the rain actually makes it to the ground, there’s a meteorological word for that, too: praecipitatio.


There is such a thing as thundersnow, and anyone who’s a fan of Jim Cantore on The Weather Channel knows it.

Basically, it’s when snow is the primary form of precipitation in a thunderstorm (instead of rain). When it happens, you’ll know it.


Graupel is a type of precipitation that is formed when really cold water droplets collect, freeze, and fall on snowflakes. This creates what is known as a ball of rime, which we define as “an opaque coating of tiny, white, granular ice particles.”


The Online Scots Dictionary cites this one: “A thick atmosphere, a dense enveloping cloud or swirl of smoke, snow, rain, or mist.”

So, we can easily assume that the foggy, murky Scottish Highlands are full of smuir. Alternatively, a blind smuir is merely a snowdrift.


For those who live in the US, specifically the midwest or east coast, you’ve probably experienced that hot, sticky, humid weather during the summer. And, that’s just what swullocking means: humid weather.


We define gloriole as “a halo, nimbus, or aureole.” When ice crystals are suspended in the atmosphere, light catches them causing a bright halo or even a rainbow.

Mental Floss says “to differentiate between a gloriole and the related corona phenomenon (caused by water droplets, and much closer to the sun or Moon), put your palm over the sun and extend your fingers, they should reach about 20 degrees from the center.”


Yet another storm you’ll want to avoid. A derecho is a widespread and severe windstorm that moves rapidly along a fairly straight path, and it is associated with bands of rapidly moving thunderstorms.

In some instances, the media will refer to derechos as inland hurricanes!


If you’re out adventuring and you see a williwaw headed your way, take cover. It is “a violent squall that blows in near-polar latitudes, as in the Strait of Magellan, Alaska, and the Aleutian Islands.” This may very well lead to what’s known as a three-dog night.


This word sastruga (sastrugi in the plural form) means “ridges of snow formed on a snowfield by the action of the wind.” It’s beautiful in an open field, and a different kind of awe-inspiring in the parking lot you’re supposed to plow.


You know how it smells outside after a rainstorm? There’s a word for that, of course.

Petrichor is the distinct scent of rain in the air. Or, to be more precise, it’s the name of an oil that’s released from the earth into the air before rain begins to fall.

Crepuscular ray

When you sit on the porch admiring the sunset, you might be looking at a crepuscular ray. Defined as “a twilight ray of sunlight shining through breaks in high clouds and illuminating dust particles in the air,” this is one of the more tame (and dare we say relaxing) weather words on our list.


Frazil are “ice crystals formed in turbulent water, as in swift streams or rough seas.” Much more exciting than just calling it ice-in-the-river!

However, frazil can also form in lakes and oceans; it is the start of sea ice. Frazil usually forms on very clear nights with very low temperatures.

An eclipse of moths

Moths in a group are called an eclipse.

A clutter of spiders

A business of flies

A group of flies is called a business.

A scourge of mosquitoes

A group of mosquitoes is a scourge or a swarm.

An intrusion of cockroaches

A group of cockroaches is called an intrusion.

A kaleidoscope of butterflies

Once freed from their cocoons, a group of butterflies is a kaleidoscope! This colorful term comes from Greek, meaning “observation of beautiful forms.”

An army of caterpillars

A group of caterpillars is called an army, albeit a very fuzzy, peaceful, squirmy army, mostly living on leafy greens in a rose bush or garden.


deciduous tree is one that sheds its leaves annually, distinct from an evergreen tree that keeps its foliage year-round. But, this autumnal adjective also has a much more poetic meaning of “not permanent” or “transitory.” Of these two, the scientific “transitory” sense emerged first, but both stem from the Latin deciduus meaning “falling down, falling off.”


Pumpkin patches, apple trees, and heaps of fallen leaves are a few images that may come to mind when you think of autumn, but what about gossamer? This delightfully descriptive word is defined as “a fine, filmy cobweb seen on grass or bushes or floating in the air in calm weather, especially in autumn.” The term is also used to refer to a delicate variety of gauze.

Indian summer

An Indian summer is a period of warm, dry weather occurring in late October or early November and following a period of colder weather. The coinage of this term is uncertain, though one theory is that it stems from the Native Americans’ practice of gathering food for winter during this unseasonable heat wave.

In Britain, an autumnal warm spell can be called an All-Hallows summer.


Speaking of All Hallows, the word Halloween is a shortened version of the phrase All-Hallow-Even, which means “Eve of All Saints.” The term references the November 1 holiday, All Saints’ Day, which commemorates saints of the Christian church.

The customs of Halloween, however, are linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain, which also occurred around November 1 to celebrate the beginning of winter. Souls of those who had died were believed to return to their homes, and people sometimes wore disguises to avoid being recognized by the visiting ghosts.

Harvest moon

Harvest moon refers to the full moon occurring nearest to the autumnal equinox. Before electricity, the extra light provided by this brilliant moon allowed farmers to work into the night gathering their crops during peak harvest season. Other names for full moons in autumn include blood moon in October, frosty moon in November, and long nights moon in December.


It refers to the ninth month of the year, but the word September is formed from the Latin term septem, which means “seven”; what’s going on here?

This name is a relic of the month’s place in the Roman calendar. The Gregorian reform pushed the New Year back two months from March to January, rendering September (along with October, November, and December, respectively formed from the Latin words for “eight,” “nine,” and “ten”) a misnomer.

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