STEELE, N.D. — Paul Smokov doesn't need radar or other high-tech equipment to forecast a major snowstorm on the prairie. He consults pig spleens.
"It looks like a normal year with no major storms," said Smokov, 84, peering at two of the glistening, foot-long brown organs on his kitchen counter as if they were a crystal ball. "That's what the spleens tell me."
Smokov and his wife, Betty, raise cattle on their 1,750-acre ranch north of this town of about 760 people. He is happy to share his forecast with his neighbors or anyone else willing to rely on the reading of animals' innards.
If the spleen is wide where it attaches to the pig's stomach and then narrows, it means winter weather will come early with a mild spring, Smokov said. A narrow-to-wider spleen usually means harsh weather in the spring, he said.
The spleens obtained by Smokov this year are pretty uniform in thickness, which means no drastic changes.
Janice Stillman, editor of the Old Farmer's Almanac in Dublin, N.H., said she had heard of at least one other pig spleen weather prognosticator -- Gus Wickstrom of Saskatchewan -- but he died this year.
"It's folklore and a dying art, obviously," she said.
Smokov's Ukrainian parents brought their knowledge of pig spleen forecasting with them when they came to the U.S. a century ago. As for listening to forecasts on the radio: Electricity didn't reach Smokov's ranch until 1949.
"The spleens are 85% correct, according to my figures," he said. "Those [forecaster] guys aren't any better."
At the National Weather Service office in Bismarck, meteorologist Vic Jensen relies on Doppler radar and other scientific instruments. But he is charitable toward folk methods such as Smokov's. "I can't discount some of these kinds of theories," Jensen said. "It's just another way for people to forecast what's going to happen."
Forecasters are calling for a normal winter -- matching Smokov's prediction.