What if I told you that you could predict the weather using nature itself? Most modern humans have lost the ability to look outside and predict the weather thanks to the internet. But if you find yourself in a dire survival situation, you may not have the luxury of jumping online to check the weather. It’s time to relearn the old ways of weather prediction to increase your chances of survival when all hell breaks loose.
Predicting the Weather Using Nature
Weather Prediction Basics
Knowing how to predict weather won’t do you any good if you don’t understand why these methods work in the first place. Don’t worry, I’ll be brief with this weather primer for survivors.
- Low-pressure brings cold air.
- High-pressure brings warm air.
- Wind can move in any direction.
- The air is full of water vapor, even if you can’t see it or feel it.
- As air close to the ground warms, it rises, taking the vapor with it.
- Storms tend to move counterclockwise around low-pressure systems, moving west to east.
- In the northern United States, temperatures rise as you move south, closer to the equator. In the southern hemisphere, this is reversed.
- As warm air rises, it cools, collecting on dust particles, condensing, and forming clouds.
- Wind and changing temperatures both move clouds.
Using this basic knowledge, the following tips will help you forecast the weather a few hours to a few days out. Please keep in mind that using only one method won’t be very effective. Instead, choose several suitable methods from this article and use the results to get a better overall picture of the coming weather.
Quick Tip: Weather Prediction Sayings
Many cultures throughout history have developed short rhymes for weather prediction. Here are some of the better-known sayings and proverbs which can actually help you to predict future weather events.
|Saying||What it Means|
|“Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky morning, sailors take warning.”||A red sky indicates an increase of moisture in the air and that rain is likely. If you see it at sunset, it generally means the storm is moving away from you. If seen in the morning, it’s headed your way.|
|“Circle ’round the moon, rain or snow soon.”||Haze around the moon is caused by moisture in the air and generally means rain in the next one or two days.|
|“A rainbow in the morning is nature’s warning.”||This is also an indicator of moisture in the air and when a rainbow is seen in the morning, it means it’s in the western sky. That means the increased moisture that caused it is heading your way.|
|“Chimney smoke descends, our nice weather ends.”||Smoke from a fire that doesn’t rise indicates a low pressure front moving in. Wet weather isn’t far away either.|
Using the Sky to Predict the Weather
One of the most obvious ways to predict the weather is to simply look up. If there are no clouds in the sky, modern man assumes it’ll be a warm day. But any experienced outdoorsman will tell you that a clear sky doesn’t always mean smooth sailing for long.
The Sun Can Help Predict Rain
Sailors knew how to read the skies with just a glance long before modern technology got in the way. They didn’t fully understand the science behind what they were seeing. They didn’t have to, but you should. The old weather lore “Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky morning, sailors take warning” is not just an example of questionable grammar, but a useful way to help you predict the weather. Each version of this old rhyme is brimming with the wisdom of air pressure warnings and weather prediction.
If the sky appears reddish or dirty orange, that discoloration is the result of sunlight reflecting off water vapors and dust particles in the air. The redder and nastier the color, the more moisture is in the air, which usually means rain. But the direction you see the red in and the time of day matter just as much as the color.
- If you see the red sky in the morning—in the east—you’re seeing the front of a low-pressure system and stormy weather heading your way.
- If you see a red sky at sunset, it usually means the storm is moving away from you, being pushed by a high-pressure system coming in from the west.
Nature can be dramatic with her hints, such as that blazing red sky, or she can be subtle. A sharp eye on the western morning sky might catch sight of a rainbow. If you see one, rain is on the way. An eastern rainbow in the evening means the rain is moving away from you. Just keep the sun to your back and remember this little ditty, “A rainbow in the morning is nature’s warning.”
Watch the Moon for Weather Clues
It’s not just the sun that can shed light on the weather. The moon itself can provide a significant amount of insight as to what mother nature has in store.
- A moon ringed with haze can be as telling as a red sunrise or early morning rainbow. When you can see an obvious haziness around the moon, you’re looking at cirrostratus clouds. That haze signifies rain in the next day or two.
- A clear, bright moon with no obstruction typically means the next day will be clear, too.
Of course, the old-timers have a jingle for this one as well. “Circle ’round the moon, rain or snow soon.” Those old fellas really loved their rhymes.
Use Clouds to Predict Weather Changes
Clouds can tell you a lot about what will be happening soon. Shape, size, color, time of day, and movement each play a vital role in determining future weather patterns.
- Heavy cloud cover at night will bring warmer weather the next day. The clouds insulate the earth, keeping heat in and cold out.
- If the clouds persist throughout the following day, temps will drop since the insulating effect is now keeping the sun’s warmth from penetrating.
You’ve probably noticed that clouds during a downpour are dark and ominous. The darker the color, the denser the clouds are. Since clouds are full of condensed water vapor and atmospheric dust, that means the heavier, darker clouds are full of more water and you’re about to get soaked.
Lighter clouds mean less rain. Dark clouds mean more rain. Pretty simple, right? But the shape is also important, so here’s a quick list of some common clouds and what they mean for the weather.
Common Cloud Types and Their Meanings
- Cumulus Clouds: These typically mean fair weather. These are the white, fluffy, cotton-ball clouds that stay lower in the sky. However, if they’re coming together and creating towers or thick layers, there could be rain later in the day.
- Cumulonimbus Clouds: These clouds are an excellent indicator of heavy rains and thunderstorms. These massive clouds create a thick, gray blanket over the sky, often in a mushroom shape. They’re sometimes called “thunderheads” and occasionally produce lightning deep within. Cumulonimbus are especially dangerous for survivalists because they are often associated with flash floods. You can usually see them coming, so watch the skies.
- Nimbostratus Clouds: You can spot these clouds as they are grayish sheets across large swathes of the sky. These clouds can get so thick they blot out the sun and usually mean continuous precipitation. Don’t confuse nimbostratus for stratus clouds, which are lower, much thinner, and don’t carry much rain.
- Altostratus Clouds: Generally these clouds bring continuous rain or snow with them. They are mid-level, bluish-gray, and cover the entire sky.
- Cirrostratus Clouds: These clouds are thin, almost wispy veils. These are the ones that cause the distinctive halo around the moon that I mentioned above. Seeing cirrostratus clouds means possible rain or snow in the next 24 hours.
The Wind Can Predict a Storm
As I covered earlier, storms tend to ride a west to east rotation. However, winds can come from all directions. When checking the wind, it’s important to know what’s normal in your area at that time of year. According to meteorologist Jeff Haby, that’s called the prevailing wind. When wind moves away from the prevailing direction, you can expect a change in typical weather.
One Simple Trick to Predicting Weather with the Wind
There’s a simple trick to predicting the weather using both the wind and clouds, and all you need is your body. Stand with your back to the wind and look up. If the clouds are moving directly toward you or away from you, the weather is likely to stay the same. When the clouds are moving left to right, the weather is going to get worse. If, however, the clouds are moving right to left, the weather is likely to get better.
Campfires Smoke Reports Air Pressure
Knowing if air pressure is high or low can help you figure out what weather is coming down the pipeline. Since we can’t see air pressure, we have to use tools. In survival settings, you may not have a barometer or access to the right trees to create a weather stick (more on that in a bit), but I’m willing to bet you can make a fire.
As mentioned above, low pressure means rain. So, light your fire and watch the smoke.
- If it goes straight up, you’re looking at high pressure in action. That’s clear skies.
- If the smoke circles a bit, hangs low in the sky, or goes off in various directions while staying low, you have dropping air pressure and it’s about to get wet.
Need another rhyme? Of course, you do: “Chimney smoke descends, our nice weather ends.”
Air Pressure Warnings Using a Weather Stick
One of my favorite weather prediction methods includes the use of a weather stick. If you’ve got access to a balsam fir tree, you can make a simple and effective natural barometer. Dry a branch of about 15 – 17 inches long and ¼ inch thick, leaving a bit of the tree’s trunk near the base. Peel off the bark, then hang the stick with a nail, making sure the branch is hanging in its natural position.
The weather stick works in much the same way as the smoke from a campfire. In response to high pressure (nice weather), the stick moves upward sharply. When low pressure is on the way (rain), the stick will move downward. It’s that simple. This article from the Farmer’s Almanac goes into detail about weather sticks and why they work, if you’d like to learn more.
The Davis Hill Weather Stick
Take a look at this weather stick on Amazon and read what others say about using this method for predicting the weather in the reviews section. I think you’ll learn quite a bit and be surprised at its accuracy!
Using Animals to Predict the Weather
To get the most out of any tips that include animals, be sure you’re familiar with the normal, natural behaviors of the creatures in your area. Animals tend to be more attuned to the weather than humans, for obvious reasons, so keep an eye on their behaviors to figure out what the weather is about to do.
- Frogs and toads will come out earlier and stick around longer as the weather gets wetter. They need damp conditions to stay alive, so they stay in during dry weather. If you hear frogs singing earlier in the evening, chances are good that low pressure is moving in and rain is on the way.
- Birds tend to fly lower or head home to roost when bad weather is on the way. It’s uncomfortable for them to fly in low pressure, and I imagine it’s not fun to get a face full of water vapor either.
- Bees, butterflies, and other pollinators will hide when low-pressure systems move in. These sensitive insects don’t fare well in rain and damp weather, so they head home before the rains come.
- Squirrels and other tree dwelling mammals tend to nest higher in the trees when a particularly cold winter is coming. Consider this a long-term weather prediction which gives you plenty of time to stock up before the cold hits.
- Beavers will build their lodges bigger and tougher if a cold winter is on the way. This is another of the long-term nature clues you should be paying attention to.
- Wild turkeys perched in trees and reluctant to descend usually means bad weather is on the way. It also means an easy dinner, so get out your bow.
- Dogs can hear thunderstorms well before humans are able to, and they often stick close to their masters when cold weather is on the way. If you’re lucky enough to have a dog with you after a disaster, watch his behavior closely.
- Deer and elk are often observed coming down from their mountain homes several days before rainstorms.
I’ve covered mainly northern hemisphere weather patterns because that’s where I live and that’s what I know best. However, nature is nature, so many of these tips will still help those in the southern hemisphere with some modifications. That said, your best bet is to start learning these skills before you’re stuck in a dire survival situation.
As with all new skills, practice makes perfect. You may not get completely accurate results the first few times you try these tips. Keep trying. Keep refining your techniques. Pay attention to your specific location and how these techniques work (or won’t work) in your area.
TIP: To maximize your success, keep a journal of your predictions, then track what the weather actually does. Do this for a month or so, several times a year. You’ll start to see patterns in your predictions and how they relate to what the weather does. It’ll help hone your skills and teach you to pay close attention to the natural world.
I want to hear from you! Do you have any tricks you’ve learned to predict the weather? Share your stories in the comments below!