It is so convenient to be able to turn the television, visit an Internet site, or turn on a weather radio to get the weather forecast for the next seven to ten days. But what happens when all the modern conveniences stop working? Anyone can tell the obvious current weather without much skill but it would be very helpful to predict future weather on the homestead, especially stormy and inclement weather. I am not going to use the scientific name for most of the clouds because as humans, we remember the descriptions of them rather then the scientific name. We all know what big, white fluffy clouds look like but what is the name for them? Wispy clouds usually mean clear weather and flat clouds mean unstable air. Puffy clouds usually mean unstable air and that storms are coming.
A few years ago, on Good Friday, we awoke to 18 inches of heavy, wet snow. This was not forecasted. Surprise! All the birches were touching the ground and many trees weakened by the winter storms gave way. Utility lines were down everywhere. Our generator woke us up in the middle of the night so we knew the grid electricity and Internet were down. We did not expect the cell towers to stop functioning. This had never happened to us before. We have an old Radio Shack weather radio and plugged it in but the local NOAA station was also down. So no weather forecasts were available at all. Long story short, cell coverage came back after a few hours, but grid power and Internet were down for over a week — and in some areas, for more than two weeks.
There are some really nice home weather stations out there on the market but most of them use 120-volt AC and/or batteries. How did our forefathers know when a big storm was coming without turning on the TV or internet and watching the weather channel?
After living in a certain area for a while you will become familiar with weather patterns. Most volatile weather occurs in the afternoon. In warmer months, mornings and evenings are more likely to be calm. Rainbows appear opposite the sun. South winds mean warmer air. North winds or westerlies are cool and can be downright brutal in the winter. An east wind means precipitation and in the winter, it means batten down the hatches, lots of snow is coming. Knowing approximate first and last frost dates is also helpful. Learning how to interpret different cloud types is pretty easy to learn. When those nice big fluffy white clouds turn gray or black we all know what is coming but learn what a mackerel sky or herringbone pattern look like. The clouds have a rippled or speckled effect and that means a change in the weather and precipitation is coming within 24 hours. I have not been able to learn to get a semi-accurate picture of how much snow or rain is predicted. As we reside in Maine we just know to expect lots of snow.
We are all familiar with the saying “red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.”
Red sky at night usually means nice weather the next day. If the sky is red in the morning, weather is on the way. The old proverbs are still around for a reason. Look up their meanings and origins and you will learn something helpful. A lavender sky means a lot of cold moisture. When we see a lavender sky in the evening in Maine in winter, we know brutally cold weather is arriving that night. We learned this after the first year of living here. I thought the sky was such a pretty lavender and our elderly neighbor and good friend warned us of what was coming. Right before a summer or warm weather storm, if the skies turn yellowish, its a good indication of hail. In many areas of the country, hail is usually the precursor to tornadoes. During summer when the sky turns yellowish/green that is usually an indication of a severe thunderstorm and possibly a tornado. I have never witnessed an actual tornado, only some turning clouds and that was more than enough for me.
Beware of clear skies on a cool late spring or early autumn day. There may be a frost as there is no cloud cover to hold down the heat from the day. A full moon also brings cooler temperatures and most people won’t plant a garden til after the full moon in June due to the dangers of a frost.
We also watch how the wood smoke is rising from our chimney. If the smoke rises up, good weather. If the smoke is lingering outside the windows we know its low air pressure and precipitation will probably occur. Sun dogs and rings around the moon also indicate heavy moisture in the air. Leaves on trees and plants will often curl upwards right before rain to catch the moisture. When my grandfather taught me this as a little kid, I thought this was the neatest thing in the world. I still use this method today as it’s accurate.
Animals tend to feed heavily before a big storm and birds and bees usually take cover in hives and nests when barometric pressure begins to drop. Some dogs can “sense” storms hours before their arrival. They sense the change in barometric pressure and can hear thunder miles away. We had a greyhound, Sonny, and we swear that dog could hear thunder in Texas! He would tremble, whine and generally be inconsolable until the storm passed. If you have had any bone injuries or have arthritis, you may know when damp weather is coming as you get achy.
Keep a journal of weather observations and soon you will be able to get a rather accurate picture of the next 24-48 hours of the weather. If you live near any large body of water, you can learn to read the water for changes related to oncoming weather. You will find your own methods will probably be more reliable than the weather channel! Children like to learn and this is fun and easy for them as well as useful.
LOW-TECH WEATHER TOOLS
We have a vintage banjo Airguide combination thermometer/barometer/hygrometer. This used to hang in my grandfather’s home and after the passing of my grandmother, no one wanted it. Of course, I grabbed it up right away. Anything that works and doesn’t use any electricity or batteries is a wonderful thing. The hygrometer and thermometer are simple, just read the gauge. The aneroid barometer has a screw on back to set it to your current barometric pressure. You can get your current barometric pressure on NOAA. The barometer has 2 needles, one is the measuring hand and the other is a movable pointer. The movable pointer is turned until it is on top of the measuring hand. Go away and come back later and see which direction the measuring hand has moved. If it moves up, nice, dry weather. If it goes down, some kind of precipitation is coming. The hygrometer tells you the amount of water vapor or humidity is in the air. There are many options on the market for combination thermometer/barometer/hygrometer stations of varying prices and designs.
We also use an Admiral Fitzroy storm glass for predicting weather. Admiral Fitzroy was a member of the Royal Navy as well as scientist/meteorologist. He pioneered weather forecasting and designed many instruments to forecast weather that paved the way for weather forecasting today. He designed the Admiral Fitzroy storm glass which we use in our home. This is a glass tube filled with a liquid and some type of crystals. A printed guide comes with the storm glass and tells you what the different crystal formations and turbidity of the liquid means. The storm glass range in price from inexpensive to fancy, and expensive models. We have the cheap model and it works just fine and is fairly accurate. Unfortunately, neither the barometer nor the storm glass will tell you how much rain/snow you are in for, just that precipitation is coming.
We have a hanging Galileo thermometer that has weighted glass balls which move up and down to give you a temperature reading. This will give you a fairly accurate temperature. They are also quite attractive to look at. Again, these vary in prices and designs. There are dozens of hanging outside thermometers available in the local hardware store. Some are so poorly made that they only last a week. One didn’t even survive the ride home which is 17 miles! I would like to say you get what you pay for but that is not always the case. I have one cheaper model that has been hanging in for 15 years. I guess it was made when the phrase “work ethic” meant something. I have several outside thermometers and I look at them all to come up with the average temperature.
There are some nice weather stations that run off electricity and batteries and have digital readouts but I prefer the simpler method. We had one of these fancy weather stations and it only lasted a year due to our nice Maine winters.
I know of friends who have had these weather stations last for a few years and find them reliable. They can be costly but provide accurate temperature, wind speed, and barometric pressure.
A simple rain or snow gauge is great to have but this only lets you know how much precipitation has fallen after the event has occurred.
Weather sticks are a piece of balsam fir about 15 inches long and debarked. Hang outside kitchen window and observe. If the stick bends down, precipitation is coming. Straight or upward curve, high and dry.
A wind sock or flag is helpful for wind speed and direction. A barely moving flag usually means wind speeds of 3-5 mph. A waving flag is wind speeds of 15-24 mph and a flag flying straight out is a wind of 25 mph or more.
A weather vane is also useful for determining wind directions. There are some great websites and videos on how to make a simple wind/weather vane. This would be a great project for the family.
The Farmer’s Almanac is a great general help in forecasting, and often surprisingly accurate. It is more generally geared towards weather patterns. Many times, it has been more accurate than NOAA. In fact, quite often it has been specifically accurate. Take the time to read how the almanac works. It is an education in itself.
With a little time and observation, you to can make a fairly accurate 24-48 hour forecast. With very little cost you can acquire some simple tools and develop a useful and reliable skill that even young children can learn. It’s always helpful to know how make reasonable educated guesses in order to plan the next day’s chores on the homestead. Remember to keep a journal of observations so you can learn patterns for your area. God bless you all and happy weathering!