Around this time of year, every rainstorm is followed by the claim that “April showers bring May flowers.” This is a lovely, optimistic saying, but is it true? Does the amount of rain in April really correlate to the number of flowers in May? Modern society tends to be skeptical of old proverbs and folktales. After all, the groundhog seeing its shadow has nothing to do with the end of winter. At the same time a “red sky at morning” is a proven sign that bad weather is on the way. Some of these sayings seem to have an element of truth, so with this in mind, it seems possible that a rainy April could actually bring more flowers.
First, it is essential to find out if April even has a large number of showers. In Concord, April is the first month of the year when no one expects a foot of snow to appear in the forecast. It is the real start of spring, and when most plants begin to grow new leaves as the weather warms. During the spring, the northern hemisphere tilts closer to the sun, leading to more direct sunlight and warmer temperatures. The causes behind the weather are complex (that’s why weather reports always seem to get it wrong!), but storms often form when warm and cold air meet. The recently warmed spring air, combined with cold oceans, creates a large number of clouds and quite a bit of rain. The jet stream, a fast-moving band of air in the upper atmosphere that separates warm and cold air, also moves north around this time, allowing clouds to form in new places. So it appears that April actually is quite wet.
An important detail to note is the origin of this phrase. The earliest known appearance of the term is from 1557, when Thomas Tusser wrote, “Swéete April showers/Doo spring Maie flowers.” Tusser was an Englishman who wrote about spring on the other side of the Atlantic. The weather in England is much milder than in Concord, even though the British Isles are further north. It is also notoriously rainy, even in winter. These differences in climate make the saying less trustworthy.
Unfortunately, flowers care more about warmth than wetness. Of course, plants do need water to grow, but perennials have all winter to soak up moisture from snow melt and rain. Their colorful appearances in May relate more to the lack of frost than to the frequency of rain. Although April showers do not seem to actually bring May showers, it is still a lovely and optimistic saying. When someone is stuck in the mud, it helps to think about all of the beautiful flowers that will grow in the weeks to come.