Predict the weather without a forecast

By Joanna Egan and Adam Ireland 19 August 2021
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While you’re in lockdown why not learn a new skill – like predicting the weather sans technology.

FOR MILLENNIA HUMANS HAVE looked to the skies to predict what the weather might bring. These days we no longer need to do it for ourselves; information about the Earth’s atmosphere – temperature, wind speed, humidity, precipitation, air pressure – is collected and interpreted for us.

To get an idea of what kind of weather to expect all we need to do is browse the web, listen to a news bulletin or pick up a copy of the daily paper. 

But with so many of us in COVID lockdown (again), now’s the perfect time to hone a new skill. Here are five things you can do to read the weather without technological help.

How to predict the weather without a forecast

Animals’ senses are more in tune with natural weather indicators than ours, so we can learn a lot by observing their behaviour. Before rain, ants will build their hills with steeper sides, turtles will seek higher ground and can often be spotted on roads, and seagulls will avoid flying and instead take shelter on the coast. In the lead up to a storm, cows will often congregate and, if thunder is brewing, they may even lie down. Another clue to look for is low-flying birds; it is believed they fly lower before a storm to allow them to alleviate a discomfort in their inner ears when air pressure falls rapidly.

Approaching storms can be felt in the human body. A good barometer is your hair; when your hair is particularly frizzy humidity levels are likely to be high. This occurs before heavy rain so your bad-hair day may be a good reason not to venture too far from shelter. Many arthritis sufferers complain of heightened joint pain as air pressure drops.

Weather stories are told in smoke. During clear weather smoke should rise steadily upwards. Prior to rain, when air-pressure is low, smoke will swirl about and eventually descend.

A low-pressure change (indicating a possible shower) will clear dust from the atmosphere so the moon appears bright and sharply focused. Another presage of rain is the appearance of a halo or ring around the moon. This occurs when moonlight shines through cirrus cloud (high, thin, wispy clouds). Cirrus clouds signal a weather change in the near future: they generally precede a warm front which produces low pressure and results in a storm. If a ring is visible around the moon it’s fair to assume that it’ll rain within the next few days.

Take time to stop and smell the flowers; moisture in the air before rain will strengthen the natural smells around you. You may also whiff the odour of compost before a storm. This is because plants excrete their waste during a low-pressure change that leads to rain.