Here we go again! Us preppers, always talking about the great and heavy importance of staying prepared. And with the issue at hand, today is no different. Weather forecasting is a dying skill and people nowadays rely too much on the weather channel to plan their trips.
As we all know and can fairly easily recognize, we are living and existing in a world gone, for the most part, and in light terms, soft. We rely on those pocket-parrots to tell us everything; hell, we can hardly cross a busy street without textwalking (and we thought thumbunicating and driving was bad!).
One thing that we especially rely on our phones for is a quick and easy weather forecast. Even if we have the opportunity to look outside, we feel the need for a quick look at how the weather is going to be acting for the day. And that only makes sense.
However, you will find that you can not only not always rely on the “weather mans” forecast, but that you may (especially considering where our crazy universe is heading, and the wild times we now exist in) find yourself without any access to a professional forecast. Or, you could be on a two-week trek into some good ole backcountry where WXII and The Weather Channel App don’t quite pick up. Or possibly you find yourself in a grid down scenario.
While it may not be wise to entirely rely on the local news stations weather forecast, one weather “prophecy” that you can count on is that someday you will find yourself deep in some backcountry and the weather will make a very unexpected change. This is bound to happen.
With the weather getting warmer, more water vapors will be condensing, and therefore creating the sudden possibility of a gnarly, dark cloud formation. These clouds can quickly bring on severe electrical storms. It is also not unfamiliar for snow to fall at moderate heights even in mid-August. Fog and clouds can cling to a landscape even though the sun is blasting down a few measly miles away.
Capricious weather in the back of beyond is a congenital hazard; and therefore, preparedness is the only sure-fire way to do it right.
Believe it or not, it is possible for you to auger the weather simply by using the skills that your very nature gave you. By becoming a better spectator of the great sky, you can greatly lessen the chances of getting caught up in some surprise bad weather.
Predicting the weather on your own and through your own visual observances of the sky can not only save your life in a dire situation but can also be a very enjoyable pastime and an all-around fun hobby.
First thing: Thinking Ahead
Of the many important things to bring along with you on the trail, common sense and a cautious viewpoint are among the essential. You should, at all times, bear in mind that if it can possibly go wrong, it will. Don’t let this prophecy damper your time, but more so use it to your advantage. Always carry the appropriate gear for those “what-if” situations (and with any time at all on the trail, you can be sure you’ll find yourself in one at some point). You should know enough about the area you will be trekking before you ever even leave to know the possible weather patterns that may be experienced there.
It doesn’t take much effort to explore a region’s past weather patterns. Also, if you have an emergency radio (yes, you can find these in small, easily towable versions) you can continually monitor the local forecasts for the territory that you are in.
What, Exactly, is Weather?
To wholly grasp the curiosity of weather, you have first to discern how it happens.
Our atmosphere, the big, vast sky, is made up of a bunch of water vapor that has been evaporated by the sun’s warmth and from the surface of the earth and the oceans. As that vapor floats around from warm place to cold place and vice versa, it becomes droplets which, collectively along with dust particles, sea salt, and airborne pollutants, make up clouds.
The water droplets only fall from the clouds when they become too heavy to stay suspended in the air.
Understanding the properties and peculiarities of clouds can help you to more accurately predict the weather; which brings us to our first point of interest:
Those types of clouds you see in the sky can actually tell you quite a bit about the weather.
For instance, billowing cumulus or clouds that are very high and almost a bright white, generally indicate good weather.
Always make it a habit of looking at the sky often to notice the developments of the clouds. An accurate prediction can be made well in advance by simply paying attention to the shapes and movements of clouds.
Understanding the difference between the different types of cloud formations will help you to better decipher the weather.
An important sign that clouds will often share with you is the arrival of a warm or cold front.
Warm fronts are known for their lingering strands of precipitation but scarcely generate violent weather. In general, warm fronts will begin thin, wispy, high-level cirrus clouds and can develop into low, thick stratus clouds.
Once a nimbostratus cloud, gray, thick, low-level, forms you will more than likely get some precipitation, anything from a lite mist to a steady rain or snow.
A cold front is an air mass that wedges itself under warmer air pockets. A cold front will move fast and expand quickly. This will cause the temperature to drop, the wind to shift directions, the barometric pressure to drop. Cumulus clouds, though in their early stages representing fair weather, can, throughout the day, turn into cumulonimbus clouds.
These rise vertically and expand into the atmosphere from their puffy bases. These are also known as thunderheads and are known to foretell severe weather. Cumulonimbus clouds typically develop in the afternoon hours on hot summer days and create evening thunderstorms.
The color of a cloud is the next best indicator of weather. White clouds, as mentioned previously, typically mean good weather, or at least the tip of a front (which may bring precipitation later in the day). Gray clouds can mean that a new storm is brewing up. A gray sky will most of the time indicate that the storm is affecting a rather large area. Black clouds represent that there is a coming storm, but it doesn’t have strong winds. Brown(ish) clouds will typically mean that the coming storm will bring with it powerful winds.
Observing the Wind
The second best way to monitor the motions of the weather is to closely observe the wind and its movements. Clouds alone do not always give the full scope of a weather pattern. Technically, the wind is created by disorder in the atmosphere, making it a pretty decent indicator of bad weather.
- First, you will want to detect the direction of the wind. Seeing as how, in most case, weather moves in from the west, an easterly wind may strongly suggest that bad weather will be moving in on you soon. To check wind direction, toss a small handful of sand or grass blades into the air. You can also use the age-old trick of licking your finger and sticking it in the air; the side that gets cool first will indicate from which direction the wind is blowing (just make sure you haven’t been sticking that finger anywhere else!).
- Build a fire and watch the smoke. The pressure in the air will determine where the smoke goes. If the pressure is high, the smoke will rise straight up into the atmosphere from the fire. If the pressure is low, the smoke will spiral back down towards the fire (this typically means that bad weather is on the way, or is already in your immediate area, as the low-pressure system is already in place).
Related article: Predict The Weather Using The Clouds
- Watch for the calm before the storm. Before a storm, the pressure system may push out the areas typical wind pattern, causing a sort of stillness over the area. Bodies of water will also appear to be still and calm. That calmness suggests that a storm is a brewing. By now, you should recognize other signs of the storm, such as those dark, gloomy clouds that now make up the sky.
- Sniff the rain! You may think that sounds a bit ludacris, but it is a proven fact that if you slow down, and inhale a big breath of fresh air. If a storm is closing in, the air will literally smell like it. The earth itself will give off the smell of compost as plants release their waste in preparation for the rain.
Considering Animal Behavior
Who better to look to for natural weather indications than the local wildlife of the area you are journeying?
Birds and insects will be among the most telling indexes. Both birds and insects seem to fly much closer to the ground before a good rain; this has to do with the thinning of the air. As the air pressure falls, the birds begin to feel a malaise in their ears. Keep a sharp eye out for big groups of roosting birds.
If the birds you can see are flying high in the sky, chances are you are in for good weather. A lot of chirping and singing is another indicator of fair weather.
Ants and spiders seem to always become more active just before a storm.
Butterflies and bees revert back to the safety of their homes before a storm. If you are crossing a huge field of seemingly every flower, gloomy clouds are hanging low in the sky, and you see no bees or butterflies, chances are you are about to witness a storm of sorts.
Watch for turtles. “Are you turtley enough for the turtle club?” Doesn’t matter, turtles are smart enough to head for high ground up to two days before a storm approaches. If you see them out crossing the street in “plethora” or even just one or two, you may expect some bad weather.
Check the cows in the pasture. If cows are flying through the air, a tornado may or may not be near. On a serious note, if you notice a field full of cows lying down, you can probably expect some afternoon storms and showers.
An old sailors’ custom: Red sky at night, sailors delight: Red sky of the morning, sailors take warning. This is not always accurate. However, it is worth taking note.
Another indication of weather by way of the sun is to see, first thing upon sunrise if the sun itself is red. If so, you are probably in the clear (be sure that the sky around the sun is clear if it is red in the morning, remember “take warning”).
Scope the Moon
It has been said that if you can see the dark portion of a crescent moon, you can look forward to a couple of days of good weather. If you can see a ring or halo around the moon, you can definitely expect rain. Count the stars inside the ring, and you will have a decent guess at how long it will rain.
Look to the Trees
If the leaves of the trees surrounding you begin to look like they are turning skyward, and “showing their backs”, it will rain.
If it rains on Easter Sunday, expect rain for the next seven Sundays!
If the crickets are hollering, screech owls are calling, the smoke is rising as steadily as the temperature, you can expect some delightful weather!
Cell phones and The Weather Channel will not always be around to have your six (as if they are now, anyway), and as preppers, we are all aware of the philosophy of preparedness. Get out there in the field and study up on cloud movement, wind observation and all the other “weather-lore” that has been passed down for centuries.
This article has been written by Jonathan Blaylock for Prepper’s Will.