Originally written on February 27, 2021. Updated on Feb.5 2023
Every full moon has at least one nickname, dating back to the days when Native American tribes and Colonial Americans would name each moon based on weather conditions, farming routines and hunting trends.
While January is traditionally the coldest month of the year in the northern hemisphere, the heaviest snow usually falls a month later, not by chance, on February.
It’s not a coincidence then that the name for February’s full moon among Native American tribes of the north and east was the Full Snow Moon.
And moreover, on average, February is the United States’ snowiest month, at least according to data from the National Weather Service. In the 1760s, Captain Jonathan Carver, who had visited with the Naudowessie (Dakota), wrote that the name used for this period was the Snow Moon, literally “because more snow commonly falls during this month than any other in the winter.”
It is the cold, rising air that maximizes snowfall (read some interesting facts you probably didn’t known about snow).
The snowiest place in the United States is Paradise Ranger Station on Mount Rainier, WA, according to Alaska-based climatologist Dr. Brian Brettschneider who has studied 30 years of snowfall in the US. The snowiest incorporated city is Valdez, Alaska, while the snowiest place east of the Rockies is Mount Washington Observatory in New Hampshire.
But February is also the record snow month in some areas of the US, including in New York City, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Louisville, Portland, Tahoe City, and Washington DC.
About Europe, it seems that the snowiest places are Tallin (Estonia), Vilnius (Lituania), Erfurt (Thuringia, central Germany), Turku and Helsinki, both in Finland.
In any case, although “snow moon” is its most common nickname because February is typically a snowy month especially in North America, names for this month’s Moon have historically had a connection to animals. The Cree traditionally called this the Bald Eagle Moon or Eagle Moon.
The Ojibwe Bear Moon and Tlingit Black Bear Moon refer to the time when bear cubs are born, while the Dakota also call this the Raccoon Moon, certain Algonquin peoples named it the Groundhog Moon, and the Haida named it Goose Moon.
Another theme of this month’s Moon names is scarcity, and the Cherokee names of Month of the Bony Moon and Hungry Moon give evidence to the fact that food was hard to come by at this time.
Some Native American tribes called the February full moon the “little famine moon” because the harsh weather made it tougher for hunters to find food.
After all, this is the time of year when our ancestors began to feel the bite of winter in their bellies, sitting by a dwindling fire in the long dark night, wondering if they had stockpiled enough bread or meat or grain to get them through until spring.
Other nicknames include the “storm moon,” the “bone moon,” but also the “no snow in the trails moon”.
The bone moon meant that there was so little food that people gnawed on bones and ate bone marrow soup.
Others say early American colonists also referred to the February full moon as the “trapper’s moon,” literally because the optimal time for trapping beaver, fox and mink, and was the dead of winter, when these animals’ coats were at their fullest.
Among the Mi’kmaq people of Eastern Canada, the driving winds that often accompanied February snows led to the name, “Snow Blinding Moon”.
Interestingly, about once every 19 years, February does not have a Full Moon.
This phenomenon is known as a Black Moon but, because of time zone differences, these Black Moons may not happen all over the world.
For instance, there is a Black Moon in the most western parts of the US in February 2022, but not in Europe or Australia!
In 2023, February’s full Snow Moon reaches peak illumination at 1:30 P.M. EST on Sunday, February 5.
It will be below the horizon at this time, so for the best view of this Moon, look for it starting the night before or later on Sunday. It will drift above the horizon in the east around sunset and reach its highest point in the sky around midnight.