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Forecaster says smoke in wind foretells weather

Local long-time practitioner repeats ceremony taught by Plains Indians.

In a more than 80-year-old spring ritual, Weldon Crim built a bonfire at his Parmer County family farm Monday to predict the weather in the coming year.

Crim, 67, of Clovis, said setting the fire is a weather-forecasting method his grandfather learned from Plains Indians at the turn of the 20th century.

By setting a fire at sunrise March 22, then watching the direction the wind blows the smoke, a knowledgeable observer can predict the average rainfall for the comming spring. By watching how the smoke billows, one can tell whether or not there will be hail, he said.

This year, he said, the smoke predicts a drier than usual spring, with little chance of hail.

“If the smoke is blowing north and east from the campfire, it’s going to be a little drier than normal. If the smoke from the campfire is good and smooth, no turbulence, I don’t predict much hail,” he said.

Over the years, his family has found the method to have an 85 percent accuracy level, Crim added.

But, John Park, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s El Paso-area office, said he’s skeptical of the Crim family method.

“I think there’s some truth to the idea that you can use natural phenomena to predict the weather,” he said.

“The number of chirps a cricket makes in a given period of time is based on temperature. Geese arriving south early in the season may indicate the weather has already changed up north and that it’s going to be cold sooner than expected,” he said.

“But, to make long-term forecasts based on one observation? If the weather warms up again are the geese going to go back north? I don’t think so,” he said.

Crim stands by his method, however.

“Last year I got it exactly right. I said it was going to hail and on June 13 it hailed out at my farm,” he said.

The exact origins of the Crim family tradition have always been something of a mystery, Crim said.

“My grandfather, Taylor Crim, ran away from home at 14. That was around 1900 or 1910. The next the family knew, he was working on the Southern Pacific railroad near El Paso. He said he struck up a friendship with the Indians while working on the railroad.

“But he never really talked a lot about where he’d been or what he’d done in those years. He said in El Paso at the turn of the century, people didn’t ask a single man to many questions, since he could have been an outlaw. He taught my father about the fire after our family bought our farm in the 1920s.” he said.

“After I’m gone, I hope one of my sons will take it over. Our family’s been doing this for a long time,” he said.