February and May should be rainy months if las pintas are correct. The Tico old wives’ tale uses the first 12 days of January to predict, or literally “paint” (pintar) the Costa Rican weather for the rest of the year. The superstition says that the weather on each of the first 12 days represents the climate for the following 12 months. In other words, the rain that fell on Jan. 2 means that February, the second month of the year, will be rainy. Jan. 5 was also rainy, meaning we can expect rain in May.
Farmers and fishermen in the old days used the pintas to plant, harvest and carry out other duties required of them to live off the land.
“This belief comes from our grandparents,” says Ligia Dobles, who is also a grandmother but won’t reveal her age. “People still talk about las pintas. They take it seriously because the weather varies a lot. They say that in January, you can’t leave your umbrella behind because it could rain at any moment.”
But the pintas, which rely on messages from the sun and sky, don’t carry much weight at the National Meteorological Institute (IMN).
According to Eladio Solano, a meteorologist at IMN, “There’s no scientific study that, in this case, supports the belief,” he said. “It’s a popular tale, [but] we don’t take it into account for our analysis because it’s not based on science.”
“Simply because it rained on the second day of the year doesn’t mean that the month of February will be rainy, since there are many other factors to take into account,” he said.
Temperatures in San José during the first days of January were in the low 20s, which Solano said is normal for this time of year. “The weather during the first few days [has been] normal,” Solano said.
“It’s typical for the month of January, because we’ve had accelerated trade winds; we’ve had cool temperatures, especially in the nights and mornings, and the rain has accumulated mostly in the northern region of the country and the Caribbean Sea,” he said.
But Solano said the rain in these areas hasn’t been as heavy as expected. “Conditions have been a little drier than normal in these first days,” he said.
Las pintas supposedly can predict what the weather will be through the end of the year, but meteorologists at IMN can’t see that far ahead.
“The prognoses that we do are short term, in this case trimonthly,” Solano said. “So, it would only be from now until the month of March. What do we expect for this first quarter? We expect that we will still maintain the phenomenon of La Niña,” he said.
La Niña is an oceanic and atmospheric phenomenon that is linked to lower sea surface temperatures. La Niña last occurred from mid-2007 to 2009.