Editorâ€™s note:As we are in the hurricane season, I thought it would be a great idea to share this article on how you can observe the different weather patterns without a forecast
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Long before technology was developed to predict the weather, people had to rely on observation, patterns and folklore to avoid being caught off guard by the elements. If your plans, livelihood or even your survival depend on the weather, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to become familiar with some of these methods, especially since you never know when you might be out of touch with the local weather report. These methods aren’t foolproof, but they have their usefulness, and if you don’t have a forecast on hand, what do you have to lose by trying them?
- Check the grass for dew at sunrise. If the grass is dry, this indicates clouds or strong breezes, which can mean rain. If there’s dew, it probably won’t rain that day. However, if it rained during the night, this method will not be reliable.
- Remember the rhyme: “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.” Look for any sign of red in the sky (not a red sun); it will not be a bold orange or red the majority of the time, but that depends a little on where you live.
- If you see a red sky during sunset (when you’re looking to the west), there is a high pressure system with dry air that is stirring dust particles in the air, causing the sky to look red. Since prevailing front movements and jet streams weather usually move from west to east (see Tips), the dry air is heading towards you.
- A red sky in the morning (in the East, where the sun rises) means that the dry air has already moved past you, and what follows behind it (on its way towards you) is a low pressure system that carries moisture.
- Look for a rainbow in the west. This is the result of the rising sun’s morning rays from the east striking moisture in the west. Most major storm fronts travel west to east, and a rainbow in the west means moisture, which can mean rain is on its way. On the other hand, a rainbow in the east around sunset means that the rain is on its way out and you can look forward to sunny days. Remember: Rainbow in the morning, need for a warning.
- Detect which direction the wind is blowing. If unable to immediately detect the wind’s direction, throw a small piece of grass in to the air and watch its descent. Easterly winds can indicate an approaching storm front, westerly winds the opposite. Strong winds indicate high pressure differences, which can be a sign of advancing storm fronts. Deciduous trees show the undersides of their leaves during unusual winds, supposedly because they grow in a way that keeps them right-side up during typical prevalent winds.
- Take a deep breath. Close your eyes and smell the air.
- Plants release their waste in a low pressure atmosphere, generating a smell like compost and indicating an upcoming rain.
- Swamps will release methane just before a storm because of the lower pressure, which leads to unpleasant smells.
- A proverb says “Flowers smell best just before a rain.” Scents are stronger in moist air, associated with rainy weather.
- Check for humidity. Many people can feel humidity, especially in their hair (it curls up and gets frizzy). You can also look at the leaves of oak or maple trees. These leaves tend to curl in high humidity, which tends to precede a heavy rain. Pine cone scales remain closed if the humidity is high, but open in dry air. Under humid conditions, wood swells (look out for those sticky doors) and salt clumps (is that shaker working well?).
- Watch the clouds.
- Clouds going in different directions (e.g. one layer going west, another layer going north) – bad weather coming, probably hail
- Cumulonimbus clouds early in the day and developing throughout the day – greater chances of severe weather
- Mammatus cloud (formed by sinking air) – thunderstorm is dissipating (not forming)
- Cirrus clouds high in the sky like long streamers – bad weather within the next 36 hours
- Altocumulus clouds like mackerel scales – bad weather within the next 36 hours. The old sailor’s saying for these types of clouds is “Mares tails and mackerel scales, tall ships carry short sails.” Another is “Mackerel skies and mare’s tails, sailors furl their sails.” Mackerel skies and mares tails formations sometimes appear in the same sky. When that happens, rain is sure to follow the next day.
- Cloud cover on a winter night – expect warmer weather because clouds prevent heat radiation that would lower the temperature on a clear night.
- Cumulus towers (cumulus castellanus) – possibility of showers later in the day
- Observe animals. They are more likely to react to changes in air pressure than we are.
- If birds are flying high in the sky, there will probably be fair weather. (Falling air pressure caused by an imminent storm causes discomfort in birds’ ears, so they fly low to alleviate it. Large numbers of birds roosting on power lines indicates swiftly falling air pressure.)
- Seagulls tend to stop flying and take refuge at the coast if a storm is coming.
- Animals, especially birds, get quiet immediately before it rains.
- Cows will typically lie down before a thunderstorm. They also tend to stay close together if bad weather’s on the way.
- Ants build their hills with very steep sides just before a rain.
- Cats tend to clean behind their ears before a rain.
- Turtles often search for higher ground when a large amount of rain is expected. You will often see them in the road during this period (1 to 2 days before the rain).
- A very old wives tale says if birds feed in a storm it will rain for a long time, if they don’t it will clear soon.
- Make a campfire. The smoke should rise steadily. Smoke that swirls and descends is caused by low pressure (i.e. rain on the way).
- Look at the moon during the night. If it is reddish or pale, dust is in the air. But if the moon is bright and sharply focused, it’s probably because low pressure has cleared out the dust, and low pressure means rain. Also, a ring around the moon (caused by light shining through cirrostratus clouds associated with warm fronts and moisture) can indicate that rain will probably fall within the next three days. Remember: Circle around the moon, rain or snow soon.
- Create your own prediction methods. The methods provided thus far are based around a few key (but very general) principles: Low pressure brings rain, and major weather systems move from west to east. Predicting the weather is all about recognizing the signs of pressure change in your area. While prevailing systems may move from west to east, for example, individual storms in a particular region may not, due to local weather phenomena. Long term residents who spend a great deal of their time outdoors, particularly farmers, commercial fishermen and the like, learn to observe trends that give them clues to long term weather patterns and seasonal changes in their specific geographical location. In the southern United States, for instance, dogwoods are seldom caught off guard by late spring frosts, so when they bloom, you have likely seen the last frost of the season. By being observant, forming hypotheses, and testing your predictions, you can fine-tune your weather predicting abilities beyond what any article could ever instruct.
- Look for pine cones Pine trees are an excellent indicator of the overall harshness of the coming winter. In fall, look to the pine trees in your area and note if the cones are high on the tree or low. Low hanging cones indicate a mild winter.
- If you have the inclination, you can use a barometer (or make your own) to measure changes in pressure. Keep a notebook and observe what else happens when the pressure changes. Be attentive and you might come up with your own weather-prediction method that’s localized to your area.
- Don’t risk your life or well-being based on these indicators and proverbs. They are correlational only. Predicting the weather in this manner is not an exact science.