Why is it called Indian Summer anyway?

October 20, 2010

indian summer

indian summer, photo by paulh192.

“The air is perfectly quiescent and all is stillness, as if Nature, after her exertions during the Summer, were now at rest.”
~John Bradbury, 1817

We’ve had a spectacular October, and that had me wondering about the term “Indian summer.” Wikipedia has some thoughts on Indian summer, but I thought the best work was done by William R. Deedler, Weather Historian for the National Weather Service Detroit/Pontiac in Just what is Indian summer and did Indians really have anything to do with it?. He writes:

It can be defined as “any spell of warm, quiet, hazy weather that may occur in October or even early November.” Basically, autumn is a transition season as the thunderstorms and severe weather of the summer give way to a tamer, calmer weather period before the turbulence of the winter commences.

The term “Indian Summer” is generally associated with a period of considerably above normal temperatures, accompanied by dry and hazy conditions ushered in on a south or southwesterly breeze. Several references make note of the fact that a true Indian Summer can not occur until there has been a killing frost/freeze.

The earliest known use of the term was in 1778 by Frenchman St. John de Crevecoeur who wrote:

Sometimes the rain is followed by an interval of calm and warmth which is called the Indian Summer, its characteristics are a tranquil atmosphere and general smokiness. Up to this epoch the approaches of winter are doubtful; it arrives about the middle of November, although snows and brief freezes often occur long before that date.”

But does it have anything to do with Native Americans? Some thoughts Deedler shares are that Native Americans chose that time of year as their hunting season, that natives made use of the dry, hazy weather to attack settlers before winter set in, and the prejudicial notion that immigrants equated Indian Summer to “fools” Summer, given the reliability of the weather. One curious idea is:

…not at all in the American Indian “camp” of theories, was put forward by an author by the name of H. E. Ware, who noted that ships at that time traversing the Indian Ocean loaded up their cargo the most during the “Indian Summer”, or fair weather season. Several ships actually had an “I.S.” on their hull at the load level thought safe during the Indian Summer.

In any case, this is a welcome phenomenon, and one of the best reasons I know to live in Michigan!

Check this out background big and in Paul’s slideshow.

More Michigan Fall Wallpaper from Michigan in Pictures.

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