A key driver of activity in life is weather. A baseball game, a military mission, the space shuttle launch, and school days throughout the country are all things that are impacted both negatively and positively every year by different weather factors. If there were to be a break down in communications from an EMP or some other catastrophic event that prevented weather forecasts from being disseminated to the general public, weather prediction skills will become invaluable. So what are some of the things to look for when trying to predict what the weather has in store? Clouds, geographical features, barometric pressure, animal behaviors, and folklore/traditional sayings can all be reliable guidelines to use to predict the weather in the absence of professional meteorological outlooks.
Clouds can be a good indicator of what the weather may be doing. If you can learn to identify the different types of clouds, you may be able to accurately predict specific types of weather that may be rolling your way soon. Different categories of clouds include:
AGL = Above Ground Level
Low Clouds (Under 6,500 Feet of Altitude)
Cumulus – Meaning heap in Latin, these clouds are typically the easiest to identify and are usually associated with fair weather but cumulus clouds are known to produce precipitation if they are very tall. If these clouds get bunched and large, it can result in heavy showers particularly when the weather is warm.
Stratus – The Latin word for blanket or layer, stratus clouds are low hanging clouds that are known for covering the entire sky like a blanket. Stratus clouds often produce rain and drizzle. Usually if they lift quickly in the morning it indicates that a decent day of weather is ahead.
Nimbostratus – These clouds are classified by the dark sheets that blot out the sun and are usually followed by extended precipitation (several hours) within a couple of hours.
Stratocumulus – Clouds that may produce light precipitation but usually dissipate by the end of the day and are identified by the low, rolling mass of thin, lumpy white to grey clouds that may cover the entire sky.
Middle Clouds (6,500 to 20,000 Feet of Altitude)
Altocumulus – These clouds are patterned white to grey clouds that often appear in waves or are rippled and are larger than cirrocumulus clouds. Altocumulus are considered to be fair weather clouds and usually occur after storms.
Altostratus – Formless grey to bluish clouds, they will form a thin veil over the sun and moon. If they gradually darken and blot out the sun or moon, it is a sign that precipitation is on the way.
High Clouds (Over 20,000 Feet of Altitude)
Cirrus – Meaning curl in Latin, cirrus clouds reside high in the atmosphere in the very cold air because these clouds are made of ice crystals. Cirrus clouds are usually associated with fair weather but occasionally may also be an indicator that storms may be on their way.
Cirrocumulus – Clouds that appear in layers that look like either fish scales or rippled sand. Sometimes cirrocumulus also appear to look like rippled surface water on a pond or lake. These clouds are considered a sign of good weather and often clear out to blue sky.
Cirrostratus – These clouds are composed of ice particles and form a halo around the sun. When a sky filled with cirrus clouds darkens and the clouds turn to cirrostratus it is likely a sign of rain or snow to come depending on the temperature.
Towering Clouds (Up To 60,000 Feet of Altitude)
Swelling Cumulus – These flat-bottomed clouds with growing, cauliflower-like towers often form in the middle of the day and precede cumulonimbus clouds.
Cumulonimbus – Towering storm clouds that produce hail, thunder, strong winds, sleet, rain, lightning, and tornadoes. These clouds are characterized by a top that is often shaped like an anvil. If these clouds form early in the day it can mean that there are greater chances of severe weather.
Geographical Impact on Weather
- Coastal regions typically have more moderate temperatures that inland regions, meaning that they generally are warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
- The air above urban areas is often warmer than in less developed/lower population dense areas. This can sometimes result in an artificial low pressure system.
- Hilly regions generally have temperature shifts where warm air will move uphill during the day and downhill at night.
- The Nose Knows – The strength of scents often increase or decrease along with changes in barometric pressure. Plants will release their waste products in a low pressure atmosphere which generates a compost-like smell, indicating upcoming precipitation. Swamp gasses (marked by their unpleasant smells) are also released just before a storm as a result of low pressure in the atmosphere. The scents of some flowers are also very strong just before a rain.
- The air bubbles in your coffee cup will ring to the outside of your cup when a low pressure system sets in. This is an indicator that rain is on the way.
- Smoke from the campfire indicates approximate barometric pressure. If the smoke from the campfire hangs low to the ground (an indicator of low barometric pressure) than rain is likely to fall soon. If smoke from the campfire rises high (an indicator of high barometric pressure) then good weather is in the future.
- While there is no scientific reasoning that I could find, it has been shown through various studies that people who suffer from joint and muscle pain can sense (usually through pain) when the barometric pressure is dropping. This is a sign of precipitation.
- Crickets can help you determine the temperature! Count the number of cricket chirps you hear in fourteen seconds and then add 40 to get the temperature in Fahrenheit. Example: 40 Chirps + 40 = 80 Degrees F / To determine the temperature in Celsius, count the number of chirps in 25 seconds, divide by three, then add four to get the temperature.
- Many animals ears are sensitive to low pressure systems. Wolves and dogs will become nervous before a storm and emit whines or howl-like sounds.
- Seagulls and geese won’t often fly just prior to a storm. The thinner air associated with low pressure systems makes it harder for these birds to get airborne. Seagulls also will not fly typically fly at the coast if a storm is coming.
- Birds flying high in the sky indicate fair weather (high pressure system).
- Cows tend to group together when poor weather is on the way and they will typically lie down before a thunderstorm.
- Ants will steepen the sides of their hills just before it rains.
- “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky at morn, sailor’s take warn.” – A red sky at night during sunset (when looking toward the West) indicates a high pressure system with dry air that has stirred dust particles into the air which causes the sky to appear red. Typically the jet stream and prevailing front movements go from West to East meaning that the dry weather is headed toward you. A red sky in the morning (in the East with the rising sun) means that the dry air has already moved past you and a low pressure system is behind it (moving your way) bringing moisture with it.
- “Long notice, expect it to last. Short notice, expect it to pass.” – If clouds take several days to build, extended rain is likely in the cards. If a storm system builds quickly, it is likely to dissipate quickly as well.
- “Clear moon, frost soon.” – If the night sky is clear enough to see the moon as a result of no cloud cover, heat will be allowed to escape and the temperature could drop enough for frost to form in the morning.
- Lightning strike distance can be estimated by counting the number of seconds between the sight of the lightning and the sound of the thunder and then divide this number by five. This will give you the distance in miles that you are from the lightning strike. To determine the distance in kilometers, the process is the same except you divide the number of seconds by three instead of five.
- Check the grass at sunrise. Dry grass at sunrise indicates clouds and/or strong breezes which can mean rain. Dew on the grass means that it probably won’t rain that day. (If it rained the night before, this method will not be reliable.)
- Cloud cover on a Winter night translates to warmer weather because the cloud cover prevents heat radiation that would ordinarily occur and lower the temperature on a clear night.
- The low cloud cover that is typically present right before rainfall also results in louder and more vibrant sounds as they are reflected and amplified off of the low clouds.
- Wind Direction – Winds blowing from the East indicate an approaching storm front where winds out of the West generally indicate good weather. Strong winds from any direction indicate high pressure difference which can mean a possible storm front approaching.
- If the sharp points on a half-moon are not clear, rain may be on the way (haze/low clouds distort images).
- Humidity is most often felt when it is high but indicators of high humidity include frizzy hair, curled leaves on oak and maple trees, swollen wood doors, and salt in the shaker that is clumped together.
*Most of the weather prediction methods in this post are only tested/known/suspected to be effective in North America.
If there is anything that I missed or if there is something that you would like to add, please leave a comment in the comments section.
Sources for this post include: The United States Search and Rescue Task Force, The Happy Camper by Kevin Callan, Camping’s Top Secrets (2nd Ed.) by Cliff Jacobsen, and the University of Hawaii
DISCLAIMER: Nothing contained here should be taken as a replacement for professional meteorological weather prediction and should be done at your own risk. Predicting the weather for yourself is not an exact science and should be done for entertainment and the end of the world purposes only. The Prepared Ninja, its writers, staff, and affiliates strictly deny any endorsement of use of the methods outlined above.