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How To Predict The Weather… The Old Fashioned Way

Predicting the weather using nature

I would hate to think that I was the weatherman predicting the weather here in NW Arkansas.  It’s been absolutely crazy this summer.  Very much out of the ordinary, but I’m not complaining!  Very few days with temps over 100.  And August has delivered 8+ inches of rain here at the farm.  It’s been so cool that the 80-100 hummingbirds we have each year, for the most part, have already headed south for the winter.

I’m wondering, if this is summer, then what’s it going to be like in the fall and winter?  Cool… then COLD, I hope!

Wish I had a crystal ball!

But, believe it or not, humans have found ingenious ways to predict coming weather for centuries.  Granddad never heard of Doppler and satellites… but he used his senses, animal behavior, smoke, clouds, and even his cup of coffee to tell him what the weather was going to be.

Here are a few of the “methods” he used.  They’re not fool-proof by any means, but neither is our local Weatherman or the Weather Channel.

Heading into fall and winter, these little tips and tricks may even give us an edge when the “signs” say bad weather is coming, so that you can run to the grocery store and stock up, before everyone else does.   And, if nothing happens this time, you’ll be prepared for the next time.

Here’s a few ways Granddad went about predicting the weather:

Bubbles in his coffee

Pour a cup of coffee into a mug and watch the bubbles form. If they move rapidly to the cup’s edge, expect good weather. But if the bubbles stay in the mug’s center, clouds and rain could be on the way.

The reason? High pressure pushes the bubbles to the edge, and high pressure is an indicator of good weather.

Using his aches and pains

Can your body tell you when it’s going to rain? Arthritis pain and physical discomfort kick in when the barometric pressure changes. It seems Grandma wasn’t lying after all.  Many people with joint diseases, bad teeth, recently healed broken bones, and even corns and bunions report feeling aches as the barometer drops. Low barometric pressure often indicates that clouds and rain are on the way.

Sinus and facial pain caused by changes in the barometric pressure can also be another way of predicting the weather. The pain can become so severe that it can even lead to migraines. Headaches can also indicate other weather conditions such as extremely hot or cold temperatures and high winds.  It can also mean that your wife just isn’t that into you.

Watch the animals… they know

When a storm is approaching it’s believed that birds fly lower in the sky. This may actually be the case. When the barometric pressure drops, flying at great heights becomes difficult for birds. The pressure drop is also believed to hurt birds’ ears, prompting them to fly at a lower altitude.

Counting the number of times a cricket chirps can be a surprisingly accurate means to determine the temperature, because a cricket’s metabolism changes as the temperature changes.

Try this next time you are out on a warm summer evening.  Count the number of times a cricket chirps in 14 seconds and add 40 to that number. The resulting number should come close to the temperature.

News flash… cows aren’t just lazy when they lie around in the grass.  They’re actually predicting the weather for us.  Granddad said if the cows were lying in the grass, it was going to rain.  It may not be a perfect predictor, but there may be some truth to it. Animals are sensitive to changes in barometric pressure. The experts theorize that cows sense those changes and lie down so they are positioned on a dry spot of grass before the storm starts.

If you can’t hear the sounds of cicadas when they’re normally causing a racket, it could mean that rain is coming. The reason? Cicadas can’t vibrate their wings easily when the humidity gets high, and high humidity can mean rain. So the cicadas’ silence can indicate rain is near.

Have you heard this one?

Tails pointing west, weather’s best; Tails pointing east: weather’s least.

Turns out, animals tend to graze with their rear ends pointed toward the wind.  Could be people do the same…we turn our backs to the wind when possible.    Wind out of the west, usually indicates good weather, out of the east sometimes means bad weather is approaching.

Scientists say that animals living underground can sense a chemical change in the groundwater caused by rocks in the Earth’s crust releasing charged particles. And the disturbance causes them to come above ground for safety… so if you start seeing a lot of frogs hopping around or gophers on top of the ground, you probably might consider taking shelter from an earthquake.

Red at night - sailor's delight

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; Red sky in the morn, sailors be warned.

This was Granddad’s favorite… it dates back thousands of years and I’ve heard him say it a lot.  He actually found it in the Bible.  “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’’’ (Matthew 16:2-3).

A red sky at sunset most likely results in beautiful clear skies, which the weatherman says that there is high pressure keeping the storms away.  If the sky is red in the morning, the sunlight from the east shows moisture in the air, indicating that a storm is coming in from the west.

Ring around the moon means snow

Ring around the moon… rain or snow’s coming soon

I’m going to really start watching for this one… I love snow and NW Arkansas hasn’t been getting much the last few years. The visible ring sometimes appearing around the sun or the moon is a result of ice crystals in cirrus clouds refracting the light off these celestial bodies. Since cirrus clouds generally indicate foul weather to come, you can assume that it is time to start waterproofing.

Layers of clouds moving in different directions (east and north, for example) indicate that severe weather could be on the way. When cloud layers start moving in different directions, it means an area of low pressure is nearby, and that often leads to clouds and rain.

Rainbows in the morning give you fair warning

There isn’t always gold at the end of a rainbow, sometimes there is a storm. A rainbow in the west in the early morning hours could mean the sunlight from the east is striking moisture. Moisture could indicate a storm is approaching

Keep in mind, light winds or breezes don’t necessarily indicate foul weather, but if the easterly winds grow suddenly strong, it can be an indicator of a shift in barometric pressure, another sign that a storm is approaching.

Thunderstorm clouds

Clouds appear like rocks and towers… the earth’s refreshed by frequent showers.

Tower clouds, or cumulonimbus, as they’re known scientifically, is a more surefire way of predicting the weather. And they indicate that severe weather is getting closer. In Arkansas, we call them thunderheads because of the really bad weather they tend to precede, the clouds are normally flat on the top with high winds and dark on the bottoms.  Those are the ones’ that we really watch… they drop hail and tornadoes!

I can feel it in the air

Wind direction can tell you a good deal about the weather. Easterly winds can indicate a storm front is moving in, while winds blowing west mean good weather.

The nose always knows

Your nose is also good at predicting the weather.  Prior to a storm it’s possible to smell the sweet scent of ozone being carried to lower altitudes. Meanwhile, during a low pressure system and rain, molecules from decomposing plant matter are released from the surfaces they’ve attached to, such as soils, and often smell like compost, which can also indicate rain.

Flowers smell best just before a rain.

Everyone is familiar with that smell that occurs after a good summer rain, when the air is rich with the smell of plant life. This is a result of an increase in air moisture or humidity, which drastically increases the strength of smells in the air and the distance they carry.

When ditch and pond offend the nose, look for rain and stormy blows.

Unfortunately, it’s not rosy all the time; it is believed that the smells of swamps and marshes are held down near the surface when atmospheric pressure is high, but low atmospheric pressure allows these foul odors to rise and carry. Both the increase in humidity and the drop in atmospheric pressure associated with these proverbs are signs of wet weather to come.

Chimney smoke descends… nice weather ends!

Keep an eye on the smoke from your chimney… if the smoke rises in a straight stack, you can anticipate fair weather. If it rises in a stack as normal, but appears to be pushed back down once it reaches a certain height, you can bet that a storm’s a-comin’’.

These little predictors aren’t scientific, of course, but they’re fun to watch and are probably as good as the local weather guy are. 

What other ways do you have of predicting the weather?

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