Bundle up for the North Carolina little winters

The recent not-so-unexpected spring chill is one of many forecast for the area — and they all have their own names + lore.


The local signs of spring may be deceiving.

By this time of year, most of us are ready to shake off winter frost and dive into spring sunshine. We pull shorts and sundresses from the depths of our closets — and then, the cold weather returns. Maybe for just a day or two, but it comes back. Then leaves. Then comes back.

It’s a common experience all across Appalachia. In fact, these cold snaps have been a regular occurrence for generations, and you’ve likely heard them referred to as “little winters” or “cold spells,” depending on your grandma’s personal vocabulary. Long before weather apps, the predictability of little winters was used to decide when crops were planted, ensuring farmers didn’t plant too early or too late and ruin a harvest.

Well since we seem to have recently found ourselves in the middle of one (cut to us frantically searching for sweaters mere days ago), we figured this would be a good time to forecast the six Appalachian little winters on the local horizon.

close up of a Redbud tree in bloom

Redbud Winter brings the chill.

Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich via Pexels

Redbud Winter

Redbud Winter typically happens around mid-March or early April, when the redbud trees are in bloom. Heads up, this will become a pattern in the next few sentences, since most of the little winters are named after the blooming plants.

Dogwood Winter

This winter arrives next, in mid-to-late April, when the dogwood trees show their flowers.

Locust Winter

Depending on which Appalachian area you find yourself in, some measure it by the leaves appearing in April, while others rely on the blooms in May.

Blackberry Winter

This mid-May phenomenon occurs before the fruit is ready but when the flowers appear.

Whip-poor-will Winter

Belying the pattern established earlier and occurring usually in mid-to-late May, this winter is signaled by the bird’s song.

Cotton Britches Winter

Finally, this oft-forgot winter only happens when you finally put away your winter clothes.

The last spring frost for Asheville is predicted to be Saturday, April 13. But the moral of this story? Don’t stow your coats just yet.

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