How to Forecast the Weather
By Kevin Callan
Becoming an accurate weather forecaster while on a trip will certainly get you respect. The only danger of course is that when you happen to be wrong with the good weather predictions you'll loose the respect quicker then you got it in the first place.
Proverbs are the first to be warned about. Not all of them hold true. Some are just products of ignorance and whimsical contradictions. Others, however, have survived the test of time and are based on long-term observation and scientific reasoning. The general rule to follow is that any weather lore which relates to the appearance of the sky, movement of the clouds, wind change, or the reaction of flora and fauna with air pressure or humidity has some credibility. Everything else is just plain nonsense.
"Red sky at night, sailors delight.
Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning."
This proverb is probably the most common as well as the most accurate of all the ancient adages. It's also been around the longest. It was Aristotle's pupil, Theophrastus of Eresus, who coined the actual phrase. But the first record of the aphorism is in the Bible (Matthew 16:2-3). Christ said, "When it is evening ye say, it will be fair weather for the sky is red. And in the morning, it will be foul weather today for the sky is red and lowering." Shakespeare also wrote "A red morn that ever yet betokened, wreck to the seaman, tempest to the field..."
What it all means, basically, is that dry dust particles are in the atmosphere and can easily seen during sunset and sunrise. Most storms move from west to east. So, with the sun setting in the west, the red sky at night usually indicates dry weather due to that dust particles are being pushed towards you. With the sun rising in the east, the red sky in the morning indicates that the dust particles are being pushed away by an approaching low pressure.
Keeping an eye on the wildlife out there is a good way to forecast the weather as well. After all, they don't have the benefits of turning on the weather channel and have had to learn the hard way to deal with the elements on a day-to-day basis.
And the same goes for us humans.
- Watch the birds in flight - when a low pressure hits, insects tend to stay low to the ground and the birds feeding on them can be seen doing the same.
- Mosquitoes also go out on a biting frenzy just before rain, and crickets chirp quicker when warmer weather is on the way.
- Spiders spin large webs during the mornings of dry, hot days and spin short webs or none at all if poor weather is imminent; some have even been known to break apart their webs just before a storm hits.
- Bees and hornets seen taking casual flights indicate a warm day but if they hover around their hives then poor weather is on the way.
- Bees and wasps are also thought to be more likely to sting prior to an approaching storm.
- Woodpeckers are known to laugh louder and owls screech more before rain, because the drop in barometric pressure and the rise in humidity cause an uncomfortable swelling in their ear tissue.
Experts in mental health have made the claim that a drop in barometric pressure makes us more irritable and when the forecast changes from fair to foul, so do our moods. We also suffer lethargy, dizziness, headaches, and depression. Our energy levels are even more short-lived and even pain tolerances has been shown to decrease. What's to blame are ions in the air which affect the manufacturing of serotonin, which is a hormone connected to our sleep cycle, emotions and sexual stimulation.
How depressing. Not only are we crankier when it's raining out, were opt to have less sex! No wonder weathermen have been known to lie about the forecast.
A few more proverbs:
"When leaves show their undersides, be very sure that rain betides."
The old wives' tale of leaves flipping upside down, showing their light-colored bottoms flickering in the breeze, is based on actual biological fact. The air temperature and wind alters significantly before an approaching storm. So when leaves curl up, which is a direct reaction from the high level of humidity and a quick change in wind direction, rain is definitely not far away.
Under the same principle of dropping air pressure, the lower the leaves turn on the tree the more severe the storm will be, meaning that if only the tops of the tree is affected there's less chance of the rain fall being too severe.
"Rain before seven, fine before eleven."
Weather patterns change more in early morning and evening. They are also generally in motion, never stagnant. So this statement, even though it's less valid than most, has some legitimacy
"When halo rings the moon or sun, rain's approaching on the run."
Sun halos, or "sundogs", or rings around the moon give meaning to this phrase and are excellent indicators of upcoming precipitation. The halo is formed when light from the sun or moon refract as they pass through ice-crystals formed by high-level cirrus and cirrostratus clouds. The clouds themselves don't produce rain or snow, but often denote an approaching low front which usually brings poor weather. This is same reason that a jet airplane's trail persists for several hours, rain could arrive within one day.
"If your muscles all ache and itch, the weather fair will make a switch."
Again, a low pressure usually foretells bad weather. Studies have also shown that most people that suffer from muscle aches and pains can foretell the drop in pressure. Nobody really seems to know why, however.
Related to this topic, here's a short "Happy Camper" video clip on "Choosing Rain Gear."
Kevin Callan is the author of 11 books including "Wilderness Pleasures" and "The Happy Camper." A regular keynote speaker at major North American canoeing and camping expos for over 20 years, he has received three National Magazine Awards and four film awards, including top award at the prestigious Waterwalker Film Festival. Callan lives in Peterborough, Ontario, birthplace of the modern-day canoe.