This South Carolina Dairy Cow Signals When a Storm Is Coming

The rest of the country may have Jim Cantore, but Charleston locals swear by a cow.

Coburg Cow in West Ashley, South Carolina
Photo: WCBD News 2

You may have heard of the Waffle House Index, The Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) unofficial metric for measuring the severity of a storm. Known for its covered and smothered hash browns, the chain restaurant has also earned a reputation over the years for often staying open in the face of extreme weather—or at least reopening quickly thereafter. As former FEMA administrator Craig Fugate put it, "If you get there and the Waffle House is closed? That's really bad." Charleston, South Carolina, residents, though, have their own indicator: the Coburg Cow.

Known to some as Bessie, the beloved faux bovine perches on an elevated neon sign for the old Coburg Dairy once located off Savannah Highway, a well-trafficked thoroughfare in West Ashley, a suburb of the Holy City. Originally placed on her 10-feet-high platform by the family-owned dairy farm in 1959, the iconic fiberglass cow (now in her third iteration) has since inspired both nostalgic devotion and foolhardy traditions (once upon a time, daring neighborhood kids and Citadel cadets rode the cow as a rite of passage). And she has long served as a sign of the season: around Christmas, a bottle of eggnog may appear beside her; on the Fourth of July, tricolored bunting adorns her neck.

But it's the Coburg Cow's occasional absence that garners the most attention.

Before Hurricane Hugo, one of the strongest storms to ever hit South Carolina, made landfall in 1989, the Coburg Cow was evacuated from her perch. The neon sign she stands on was destroyed in the storm and wasn't repaired until 1991, when she once again took her place on the pedestal.

Now, whenever a hurricane is projected to sweep through town, the Coburg Cow is removed from the sign and stowed away until it's safe for her to return. For some residents, the Lowcountry landmark's removal is a surefire indicator of the severity of the storm to come—about as reliable as the actual weather report.

Ahead of Hurricane Dorian in September 2019, a now-viral Facebook post announced Bessie was coming down. "Charleston people who need an update and rely on the Coburg Cow to tell them... she is coming down tomorrow," reads the post. "I repeat the Coburg Cow is coming down tomorrow… May God have mercy on your souls and enjoy the hurricane parties."

For one commenter, that was all he needed to hear: "Jim Cantore can't compare to the cow."

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