Ageless Billy Spinner, Folk-Weather Specialist (Part 2)


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02 Spinner NYHSpinner was known for his long-range predictions, but when he nailed the latest one―the mild winter he predicted came true, and six inches of snow fell in central New York in March 1937―he gained many new admirers.

On the heels of that success, Billy predicted that July would be hot and dry, and no rain would fall until the second Friday of the month. When a light rain fell early Saturday morning, he commented, “I was off just a couple of hours.” The summer played out as predicted, and his star continued to rise.

He routinely received plenty of coverage in the Adirondacks, but Spinner now reached papers (sometimes the front page) in Albany, Amsterdam, Lockport, Marcellus, Rome, Schenectady, and Syracuse. City reporters soon found their way to Malone, anxious to learn his secret. In obliging fashion, Billy walked them through the process of reading hog melt.

“You see this blunt end here? Well, that’s November. … December’ll be the coldest month of the winter, but it will let up on the last end. See here? Christmas lays close to a warm spell. We will have a white Christmas, but there won’t be too much snow.

“January? ’Tain’t bad excepting for one or two or mebbe three coldish days. February’s going to have a couple cold spells. Feel that lump? You feel that? That lump’s a real storm, a cold spell with rough weather. Here’s another in February. Feel it? That’s another bad spot.

“But look! See how the rest of this melt tapers off nice and even? Here’s March and here’s April. See how even and easy it runs? You’re not a-going to get the snow and cold that you got last March.

“How’d I ever learn it? Why I just caught on to it myself. I’ve known how for years and years, but I never let on until a year or two ago when some of them weather-station scientists got too smart, so’s I just had to shut their wind off a little bit.”

It was great theater. About a month later, at the end of December 1937, the Fort Covington Sun reported, “Billy Spinner, the sage of Malone, has hit the nail, or rather weather, on the head thus far when he foretold that December was going to be real wintry.”

The winter of 1937–38 saw Billy’s most famous success, spawning a friendly feud of sorts in the media with William Tracy, chief meteorologist and manager of the weather bureau in Syracuse. Spinner called for an unusual winter event, an electrical storm―not one, but three of them―and he got it right! It boggles the mind, and it certainly put the heat on the Syracuse weather bureau.

Much to Tracy’s annoyance and bemusement, Spinner’s weather predictions began appearing on the front pages of newspapers. When the media went looking for more, Billy provided a few teasing comments. After noting that his reputation was built on hog melt, he conceded having looked recently at corn for a hint of what was to come.

And then there was this. “But corn ain’t reliable like it used to be. Some of them scientist fellers have been experimentin’ with corn, crossin’ it with Mexico and Florida corn—and what does warm-weather corn know about how to protect itself from our cold winters? Not any more than that feller Tracy down to Syracuse knows when his machine breaks down.”

03 Spinner NYHThe reporter noted that “Old Billy grinned as he sharpened another barb at his weather bureau rival, a favorite sport. ‘I don’t know yet whether the machine spoiled Tracy or whether Tracy spoiled the machine,’ ” he chuckled.

“But tell ’em to wait till I can see a hog milt. I’ll bet Tracy’ll have trouble finding three electrical storms in a hog milt like I did last fall. Mebbe the winter won’t be too bad after all. We’ll see.”

The old man was having a wonderful time, enjoying the attention and living life to the fullest. The accurate predictions continued until Spinner, 94, took ill in late 1939. His followers offered their sympathies and bemoaned the lack of a good forecast until such time as Billy could recover.

But it wasn’t to be. On January 3, 1940, Spinner passed away. Chances are, he saw it coming.

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