When surviving in the wilderness you’re constantly fighting the elements. That’s why it’s in your best interest to understand them as much as possible and that means being able to predict the weather. There are numerous signs that can help indicate what the weather will be like, keep reading to learn some of them for yourself!
Cloud Shape How to Watch the Weather
One of the easiest methods also happens to be one of the most reliable. Clouds can give you a great idea as to what the weather is working on.
* Cumulus Clouds – Big, white, puffy clouds, like balls of cotton. Cumulus clouds tend to be present on fair and pleasant days. They indicate some pleasant weather, but can also suggest more rainy or stormy weather in the next day or two.
* Cirrus Clouds – My buddy calls these clouds “fish bones”, but I’ve also heard “mare’s tails”; what you’re looking for here are those light, wispy clouds the stretch across the sky. These tend to predict stormy weather, or at least rain, on the horizon.
* Nimbostratus Clouds – Massive masses of clouds that cover the sky and hang low and heavy, nimbostratus clouds signify heavy rains.
* Mammatus Clouds – Ever see these rolling, bubbling clouds? They look like the sky itself is boiling; they’re actually a form of thundercloud created when cold air circulates down from the top of the “anvil” and forms little “pouches” at the bottom of the thundercloud. Signifies intense storms on the horizon.
* Altocumulous Clouds – Otherwise known as “fish scales” these clouds tend to indicate rainy weather within 24 hours.
* Cumulonimbus Clouds – The big ol’ thunderstorm clouds. These are those giant clouds that tower skyward like enormous anvils. Their color ranges from white to black, and the darker the color is the more likely they are bringing intense thunderstorms with them.
Cloud Position and Color
The position of the clouds in the sky itself indicate the likelihood of how the weather will behave; high clouds suggest more pleasant weather, while low-flying clouds generally indicate precipitation or stormy weather.
Colors in the sky can indicate the weather as well. Most of us are familiar with the saying, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red skies in morning, sailor take warning”, but what does that exactly mean?
According to the Library of Congress this proverb is explained with the following,
Red sky at night, sailors delight. When we see a red sky at night, this means that the setting sun is sending its light through a high concentration of dust particles. This usually indicates high pressure and stable air coming in from the west. Basically good weather will follow.
Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning. A red sunrise can mean that a high pressure system (good weather) has already passed, thus indicating that a storm system (low pressure) may be moving to the east. A morning sky that is a deep, fiery red can indicate that there is high water content in the atmosphere, so rain could be on its way.”
The clarity of the sky and the star above helps indicate future weather patterns as well. It’s easy to see the difference between a hazy sky and a clear one, but did you know that a crystal clear nighttime sky indicates a crisp and brisk morning? That might be pleasant in the summertime months, but a cold and brisk winter morning is something worth preparing for.
The Smell of the Rain
That pleasant smell of rain is a familiar indicator of rainfall, especially after a long dry spell. Unfortunately for many the smell of rain is only detectable after the rain falls, but if you’re the type who can pick the smell out on the wind it’s a reliable indicator that rain fell heavily somewhere not-too-far-away. Noticing that rain fell nearby in a desert is potentially a lifesaver; it could predict the recent arrival of drinking water, or warnings of an impending flash flood in low lying areas.
Thunder and Lightning
The distance of time between a lightning strike and the results of thunder can help you determine how far away the strike was, and with that knowledge it will indicate if the storm is moving closer or farther away. Count the seconds between lightning and thunder and divide the result by 5 to determine how far away it was. For example, lightning strikes, ten seconds go by, and then thunder rolls; divide 10 by 5 and you’ll know the lightning was a mere 2 miles away.
The Animals Tell a Lot
There are many old wives tales that relate the weather with animals, and for good reasons! Perhaps not every cow that takes to the shade is an indication of storms to come, but there are certainly some animal behaviors that are accurate signs.
When birds, especially hawks, fly high in the air, it’s an indicator that the weather is fine and dandy, and will be. Birdsong during the rain is a solid promise that the clouds are breaking and the rain will be letting up soon. It sounds wild, but it’s a commonly encountered indicator at the end of a rainspell. Heck, it’s been raining all day today and I have birds singing for the last twenty minutes. And, sure enough, the clouds are breaking and the sun is peeping through.
Frogs are another natural indicator of the weather. Because frogs rely heavily on rain and water to reproduce, they’re sensitive to promises of rain.
Spring peepers are the indicator that the winter has finally broke and warmer weather is here to stay, and meanwhile the last calls of the gray tree frog indicates that autumn is coming.
And the Plants Too
Leaves turning upside down often indicates rain, but this indicator isn’t exactly guaranteed.
Look for these more reliable indicators of what the weather is doing:
* Pine cones rely on dry, windy conditions to carry their seeds to new areas. The cones will flex with the weather; if the cones scales are open the weather is likely to be pleasant and promising. However, if the cones are pulled down tight, it indicates stormy weather is on the horizon. Remaining open during rainy weather is only going to ruin their chances at successfully reproducing.
* Likewise, most flowers rely on pleasant weather with active pollinators to successfully reproduce. Flowers like to remain closed during the nighttime, but if their petals remained closed during the day it’s an indicator of rainy weather. Just like the pine cone, wet and stormy weather ruins their chances to reproduce, so they need to protect themselves from these conditions.
Now that you have some knowledge to help get you started be on the look out for telltale signs and test what you’ve learned! Spend enough time outdoors and you’ll become naturally proficient at reading the weather and knowing what direction it’s going to turn.