Ignore the National Weather Service and the Climate Prediction Center. Throw away your Old Farmer's Almanac too. If you wish to know what the upcoming winter will bring, just head out to your nearest slough and observe a muskrat lodge!
Some say the chubby little rodents know more about December, January, February and March than any living soul -- furry, web-footed or otherwise. Yes, muskrat lore says they are reliable predictors of winter weather. But there is a problem. How that is possible is not quite understood, nor is there complete agreement on how to read the muskrat messages clearly on display in sloughs everywhere.
One theory, call it an Old Wives' Tale or simply the result of someone getting conked on the head by too many large hailstones, states that if muskrats build their lodges near the water's edge the winter will be mild. The reason, say true believers, is that the lowly muskrat knows the cold will not be sufficient enough to freeze the water down to the bottom of the pond. Therefore a comfy lodge near the water's edge is all the rascally rodent requires to winter in style, occasionally swimming out from the lodge to feed on plants and such in the water below.
Kim Fundingsland/MDN - - Does the location of this muskrat lodge have a hidden meaning? Some people think muskrats have the ability to foretell the severity of winter.
A major problem is that theory No. 2 is quite contradictory to theory No. 1. The muskrat wisdom imbedded in some minds is that a muskrat lodge in deep water signifies a mild winter ahead. The reasoning? A lodge in deep water is safe from rising water which could only come as the result of significant snowfall and melt.
So there you have it. Take your pick.
The question of muskrat wisdom was put to Patrick Isakson, non-game biologist with the N.D. Game and Fish Department. Surely he would know all things muskrat.
"I don't know if one is cause and effect," Isakson said. "I don't think muskrats can predict the winter. Really, I don't know what the muskrats are thinking."
Maybe muskrats don't think much at all beyond building lodges all over the place just to further confuse those who believe muskrats contain some hidden sense that can see into the future. The muskrats aren't talking, but they'll get blamed no matter what kind of winter strikes North Dakota in the months ahead.