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Proverbs. Old wives’ tales. Folk predictions. Superstitions. These are all names for weather folklore, something that most folks dismiss as quackery. Some do fall into that category, but others are actually backed by scientific evidence.
Our ancestors didn’t have the local TV meteorologist to tell them what the forecast was going to be. Yet, they needed to know since they lived close to the land and weather affected their livelihood every day. So, farmers, ranchers, fishermen, hunters and all others who relied heavily on the weather learned to predict it by observing the natural world and the signs of nature.
Cloud formations, wind direction and speed, sunsets, animal behavior and the feeling of the air were all harbingers of what was to come. Today the study of weather proverbs is called paromieology. Some of it is fanciful fun but other observations have a lot of truth to back them up.
It pays to stay in tune with nature and, by watching the signs around you, you can tell what the weather forecast is for your exact location instead of the whole general area that forecasters cover. These clues from animals, insects, plants, birds, clouds and other signs can be substantiated with fact:
Pay attention to how thick the animals’ winter coats are, the amount of body fat they have, where they hide their food supply and how they build their winter dens. Native Americans looked to the beaver and how they built their lodges. The bigger and stronger they were, the harsher the winter would be. If skunks have a lot of fat, it means that they are preparing to hibernate for a long winter.
If you saw chipmunks in December, the winter would be mild whereas if squirrels stash their nuts high in trees, the snow will be deep. Before a storm, game animals eat heavily, birds fly closer to the ground and spiders abandon their webs.
If birds flock and migrate early, it indicates a harsh winter. And who doesn’t look to the wooly bear caterpillars for weather wisdom? Experts are still out on a limb as to how reliable they are but, the saying goes that the wider the brown band in their middle then the milder the winter will be.
Various plants like clover close up when rain is approaching. When the winter is destined to be hard, some fruits and vegetables like apples and onions have thicker skins. When crops like acorns, rose hips and other nuts and berries are heavy, it will be a hard winter. It is how nature stays in balance; if she gives us a harsh winter, then she gives us more provisions than usual.
Without taking into account heavy fall rains and winds, if leaves fall early the winter will be mild whereas if they fall late it will be wild. On the same note, “if there are mushrooms galore, much snow is in store; no mushrooms at all, no snow will fall.”
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Many folks have barometers that accurately predict if moisture is coming or not. This is where we get our low pressure systems (storms) or high pressure systems (fair weather). How your body feels can also be a good barometer. When the air feels heavy and you are lethargic, the pressure is dropping and precipitation is on the way. Many folks swear that their joints ache when the pressure is dropping. On the other hand, if you are energetic and the air is crisp and light, it indicates that high pressure, or good weather, is on the way.
Many have mentioned that they can “smell the rain.” Who hasn’t noticed that clean, fresh scent after a rain? The reason for this is that the lower air pressure and higher humidity that comes with rain cause the ground to emit a sweet, rich smell.
Wind speed, velocity and direction are probably the best indicators of changing weather. When the velocity picks up and there are swirling and gusting breezes, it means that a low pressure front is approaching with foul weather.
Wind direction is one of the easiest signs to watch. East and northeast winds are counterclockwise currents of low pressure. Southerly winds are indicative of warm and humid conditions, most likely associated with rain. Winds from the north and northwest usually indicate cool, crisp good weather.
There is a simple bit of wind forecasting that each of us can do anywhere. Stand with your back to the wind. If the clouds are moving toward or away from you, the weather will likely stay the same. If the clouds are moving from left to right, the weather will get worse. When they move from right to left, the weather will get better.
Miscellaneous Warning Signs
“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.” The pink and red sunsets are caused by dust in the dry, clear air. Most of our weather systems come from the west so, when it is clear, it means fair weather is heading our way while storms are heading away from us. It is just vice versa when we see a red eastern sky in the morning, the moisture is heading our way.
This pretty much holds true for rainbows too. “A rainbow in the morning is nature’s warning.” Seen in the western sky, it is increased moisture that is heading our way. An evening rainbow in the evening means rain is moving away.
“Circle around the moon, rain or snow soon.” A halo around the moon is caused by refraction, reflection and dispersion of light through ice particles suspended in high altitude clouds and warns of impending moisture.
“When chimney smoke descends, our nice weather ends.” This is because when the air is very dense with moisture, it forces the smoke downward whereas when the air is lighter it allows the smoke to rise.
“When dew is on the grass, rain will never come to pass. When grass is dry at morning light, look for rain before the night.” If there is no dew on the grass, it means that skies are cloudy or the breeze is strong, both of which may mean rain.
When there is heavy cloud cover at night, it means warmer weather the next day because the clouds blanket the earth, acting like an insulator and keeping the heat in. However, if clouds persist the next day, temperatures will drop since the clouds prevent the sun’s warming rays to enter. For this reason, it only frosts when there is no cloud cover.
Ben Franklin once said, “Some are weather-wise and some are otherwise.” Since time began man has been fascinated with the weather and trying to predict it. Rightfully so because weather affects all of us. Even if we are not fascinated by it, it would benefit all of us to pay a little closer attention to the weather signs that are around us every day and to not discount weatherlore too quickly.