We have no control on the weather yet it is a part of our lives which influence what we do, what we eat, what we wear and many times where we live. How did people predict the weather before there was the Internet, television, radio or the weatherperson with all of their gadgets?
- Doppler radar and high altitude balloons. The Doppler radar produces velocity data about objects at a distance with the help of the Doppler effect.
- Weather balloons send back measurements of atmospheric pressures, wind speeds, temperatures, and humidity. Balloons send back data via a device called a radiosonde which collects information on its upward journey and transmits it back as the device comes back from its high altitudes.
Watch this video to understand how a barometer works.
- Anemometers measure air pressure but have no mercury. They also measure wind speed.
- The Beaufort scale is also used to measure the wind speed. Each picture represents one level of the scale.
- Psychrometers measure relative humidity. This instrument uses two thermometers. One bulb is covered with a wet cloth. A cooling effect of evaporation lower the temperature on the bulb as the cloth slowly dries. The two thermometer temperatures are compared to a chart to get the relative humidity.
- Thermometers measures the air temperature. In the United States, temperature is measured using two scales. These are the fahrenheit and celsius scales. Both of these are based on the state of the water at sea level.
- Rain gauges measure the amount of liquid precipitation. This is a fancy rain gauge used by professionals but any open container with a flat bottom can measure precipitation by adding an inch scale.
Before our world had so many gadgets to predict the weather, people had to depend on observations and folklore to predict the weather.
Step 1 OBSERVATIONS
- You can predict the weather by observing a cup of coffee. When you pour a cup of coffee watch which way the bubbles on the top go. A good sign is when the bubbles quickly move to rim of the cup. That means high pressure and good weather for the next 12 hours. When the bubbles stay in the middle of the cup, you know the pressure is low and the weather is unsettled. This illustrates air pressure just as a barometer or anemometer do.
- When bees stay in or hover around their hives it means it is going to rain sometime that day. So if you see no bees in your flower beds you can probably count on rain. Air pressure again is the cause of bees not venturing out too far from their hives.
- Ants also stay near the opening of their ant hill if a rain storm is coming. Sometimes ants will even cover up the hole on their mound. They will also build the sides of their ant hills very steep right before the rain. All of these occur due to the air pressure.
- Some insects have a tendency to be mean when rain is approaching. Wasps have a tendency of stinging and fleas will bite fiercely. Watch your arms for flea bites and don't let the wasp get you as they really hurt.
- Spiders make their webs stronger when a storm is expected, and rain is predicted. The webs usually have more cross sections that reinforce the web.
- Crickets are known as a poor man's thermometer. They can tell the temperature. If you add the chirps a cricket makes in a 14 second time period and add the number to 40 you should come up with the temperature with one degree Fahrenheit. Imagine using crickets as your thermometer.
- Looking in the field at a heard of cows, you know if they spread out it is going to be a nice day.
- If the cattle are all clustered together, a storm is brewing. The tighter the cluster the worse the weather will be.
- Cowboys and cattle can't talk but cattle can relay a message that it is going to rain and the cowboy understands by observing the actions of the cows. For example, if a cow is restless in its stall, it usually is a sign of rain as cows are usually calm in the barn.
- Another way a cow predicts rain to a cowboy is by not giving milk.
- In the pasture cows rarely lie down but if they do, this is another prediction of precipitation.
- When rain is coming, birds have a tendency to fly low because the air pressure starts falling due to an oncoming storm and the lower air pressure hurts their ears.
- It is also a sign of the air pressure falling when you see a bunch of birds sitting on the telephone or power lines.
- Rain in coming when you observe the sparrows chirping and all of a sudden you don't hear any birds.
- Seagulls stop swarming and stay on the beach when a storm is coming.
- You will often see cats clean behind their ears before it rains.
- Most animals sense the air pressure changing and will have a sixth sense when it come to predicting stormy weather.
- Light shining through cirrostratus clouds associated with moisture and warm fronts cause a ring around the moon. The ring around the moon usually means rain or snow.
- By observing which direction the wind is blowing, throw a piece of grass into the air and watch its descent. This will give you the wind's direction. Westerly winds indicate no storm fronts are near. Easterly winds can indicate a storm front is approaching.
- The leaves of deciduous trees turn upside down during unusual winds. The leaves grow in a way that keeps them right side up during regular prevalent winds.
- The leaves on trees will curl when the humidity changes. Imagine observing tree leaves for humidity rather than measuring it with a psychrometer.
- Clouds which look like puffs appearing in long rows. These clouds are called cirrocumulus clouds. These are considered high clouds which have an elevation of over 20,000 feet. When much of the sky is covered with these clouds the sky is called a "mackerel sky" because it looks like a lot of fish scales.
- Altocumulus clouds are in the middle cloud group. The elevation of these clouds is 10,000 to 20,000 feet. These clouds form when rising currents within the cloud extend to the unstable air above. Rain can be predicted within 36 hours.
- Towering clouds, know as cumulonimbus clouds usually mean thunderstorms in the afternoon. These clouds usually have thunder, lightning and heavy rain. These towering clouds can go up to 60.000 feet.
- Cirrus clouds which are the highest clouds look like a lot wispy feathers in the sky. Usually these clouds indicate pleasant to fair weather when they move from west to east. A high number of these clouds can be a sign of an approaching frontal system. They are usually over 20,000 feet and are where the atmosphere is very cold.
- Light and moderate participation is associated with nimbostratus clouds. These clouds cover the whole sky and are dark and low hanging. These are considered low clouds, under 10.000 feet and lengthy precipitation can be expected within a few hours.
- Cumulus clouds look like cotton balls in the sky. Usually these clouds are not a prediction of rain as there is a lot of clear sky in between them. In the spring and summer these clouds can change into thunderhead clouds (cumulonimbus clouds).
- If the air smells like compost, there must be a low pressure and plants are releasing their waste. Rain is on the way.
- Another smell in the air during low pressure and a sign a storm is on the way is that of the gasses from the swamps.
Step 2 Folklore
Even though folklore weather seems way out there, farmers and sailers still use it today.
- "Red sky at night, sailor's delight". Red sky at night usually means high pressure and stable air is approaching from the west. Usually good weather will follow.
- "Red sky in morning, sailor's warning". If the sunrise is red, it usually indicates a storm system is moving to the east. Rain is on its way if the morning sky is deep fiery red.
- "Rainbow in the morning gives you fair warning". This usually indicates we are probably going to get the shower in the west.
- "If March come in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb". March is such an unpredictable month for weather. We can only hope that if it is cold and snowy the beginning of March, it will be springlike and warm at the end of March.
- "Cool is the night...when the stars shine bright". The temperature seems to drop when there is less moisture in the air at night. A clear night sky allows the stars to shine bright. The brighter the stars the cooler the night.
- "Clear moon, frost soon". If the night sky is clear enough to see the moon and the temperature drops a-lot, frost will form.
- "Mare's tails and mackerel scales make tall ships take in their sails". This saying means that high winds could be coming and therefore the sails of the ships should come down.
- "When the stars begin to huddle, the earth will soon become a puddle". Many stars are hidden by approaching clouds at night. The clouds that are not hidden by the clouds look like they are huddled together. This doesn't always lead to rain but if clouds start increasing then there is the chance of rain.
- "When the wind is blowing in the North, no fisherman should set forth. When the wind is blowing in the East, 'tis not fit for man or beast. When the wind is blowing in the South, it brings the food over the fish's mouth. When the wind is blowing in the West, that is when the fishing is best". This is when all of the door signs that say "GONE FISHING" come out.
Society has come a long way in predicting the weather. Even though meteorologists use many gadgets and instruments to predict the weather, we can still use observation and folklore to predict it as well. It is fun to try and predict the weather without gadgets, it is amazing how accurate you will be. Well, we know how accurate the weatherman is!