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What Is Onion Snow?

By L. Whitaker
Updated May 17, 2024
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"Onion snow" is a regional term used primarily in the state of Pennsylvania, referring colloquially to the final snowfall before the end of the spring season. Some sources indicate that the onion snow typically occurs after the traditional time for planting onions. In most places, onions are planted in late March or early April. Onion snow is defined as a light snow that melts quickly. This regional expression is said to originate from Pennsylvania Dutch culture and language.

Three snow-related expressions, including onion snow, are unique to Pennsylvania Dutch culture. A sapling-bender refers to a wet and heavy snow that weighs down tree limbs, while a crack-stuffer is the term for a dry fine-grained snow that settles into cracks. Legend holds that all three types of snow must occur before spring has arrived.

In addition to onion snow, crack-stuffers, and sapling-benders, other weather expressions have arisen from the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect. A storm could be referred to as a herschel. The expression "dooner und blitzen" means a thunderstorm with lightning. Individuals with a Pennsylvania Dutch heritage could refer to a rain drizzle as spritzing. Likewise, an inquiry about the likelihood of rain might be phrased as "Make wet?"

Much of the weather lore of rural areas in Pennsylvania is also due to the influence of the Pennsylvania Dutch culture. This folklore holds that the weather occurring on any month's fifth day is a predictor of the weather for the entire month. Overactive behavior by children is said to be a sign that rain is imminent, according to these beliefs; rain is similarly said to be on its way if morning fields contain many cobwebs. In the same vein, a crowing rooster in late evening predicts rainfall overnight. A cold winter is believed to be foretold by the plumpness of corn as it grows, and it is said to be warm enough for corn planting when women are seen sticking one of their legs out from beneath the bedcovers.

The term "Pennsylvania Dutch," sometimes called "Pennsylvania German," refers to a cultural group of German heritage, based on a misunderstanding of the German word "Deutsch." This group descended from southwestern German settlers brought to the area in the 1600s by William Penn. The unique Pennsylvania Dutch dialect arose from the intersection of colonial English with the German spoken by the immigrants.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1006594 — On Apr 10, 2022

Pennsylvania Dutch is a misnomer for Pennsylvania Deutsche, i.e., German. The ancestors of today's Amish, Mennonite, and other Anabaptists are not from the Nederlands or Holland.

By anon1006436 — On Mar 12, 2022

Loved finding and reading this - life is strange these days, and it’s sweet to find something that reminds me of my days as a kid and my grandparents referring to snow this way. It snowed in PA today - maybe it’s a little early for an onion snow, but it definitely a branch bender. Thank you!

By anon995040 — On Mar 27, 2016

Onion snow is actually referred to snow that falls after you plant

your onions if you plant them before St. Patrick's Day. So you can't have an onion snow before 3/17.

By anon945944 — On Apr 15, 2014

I have heard about the onion snow from old family members originally from Pa. What I was told is that there is a least one more snow after the green onions emerge. In my lifetime, it has been true.

By anon941930 — On Mar 25, 2014

I tell everyone to get excited because it's the onion snow and they look at me like I'm nuts. I am from PA, but I live in the Midwest now and they've never heard of it here.

By lluviaporos — On Mar 17, 2013

@pleonasm - Yeah, there's a reason people often joke about how Inuit have hundreds of different words for "snow" (which is actually a myth). Anywhere that has snow is going to have quite a few ways of describing it, including English, even if they don't use specific words, but coin phrases instead.

Snow is just such an important part of life if you live in an area that has it. I come from a seaside town, so it took me a while to adjust when I moved inland, but I completely understand why people focus on it so much. It defines every aspect of life while it's around.

By pleonasm — On Mar 16, 2013

It's fascinating how much English can change, even within a country or a state to reflect the origins of the people who live there. This is something that they just take for granted until they come across people from other areas.

I've never heard the term "onion snow" before, but I'll bet they use a different term to refer to the same thing in other countries where judging the last snow of the year is an important practice.

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