Old Fashioned Weather Prediction Tips
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Old fashioned weather prediction tips have always interested me. As a little kid, I realized I could predict a soon-to-come severe thunderstorm by watching for a certain flip of the leaves on our oak trees.
Now I’m all grown up and live on a farm. I’m too far out to hear tornado sirens. And as a rule, I don’t watch the news. While I can access the radar on my smartphone (and sometimes get weather alerts), I’ve found they aren’t always accurate—even when they are GPS based.
So how in the world do I deal with the weather and know what’s coming?
(Don’t want to read all the words? This blog post is also a podcast—just press the triangle play button on the little black bar at the top of this post!)
It is important to know that severe weather is coming, and yet I’ve found a trend in the last several years that feels like mainstream, technology based weather prediction leans heavily towards hype in what I can only assume is some over-effort to keep people informed and “protected”. Unfortunately, not only does that not help anything, it can actually backfire. If people feel the weather forecast is wrong most of the time, will they listen when it’s actually right?
What ever happened to looking at the sky? Paying attention to the way the air feels outside? Noticing how your animals are acting? Seeing the signs that nature gives us?
I guess it’s hard to do that when a lot of people don’t spend a lot of time outside anymore.
Today let’s talk about weather folklore and old fashioned weather prediction tips. Stick a few of these in your back pocket, and you’ll have a decent idea of what the sky is going to do next.
Old fashioned weather prediction tips I grew up hearing…
Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning. Red sky at night, sailors delight: This weather saying has old roots and also scientific basis. It holds true if you live in certain areas on the planet and your weather patterns move west to east (not more north to south, as sometimes happens.) Because of this weather movement and the fact that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, if you see a red sky in the morning (the east), the rising sun is illuminating an approaching weather system (coming from the west). If instead you see a red sky at night (the west), the setting sun is illuminating the departing weather system, and decent weather is generally to follow.
Sun dogs mean a change in weather: Sundogs are formed by ice crystals in the atmosphere and appear as patches of light next to the sun. I grew up hearing that sundogs meant a change in weather was coming. Other people use sundogs as an accurate predictor of rain. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to know sundogs often mean what some old timers claim they mean: today will be clear as a bell and cold as hell.
If a dog is eating grass, that means it will rain: While it sometimes seemed to work out to be a predictor of coming rain, many people say there is no scientific basis for it. Others say that dogs can sense the atmospheric pressure change before a storm, which gives them a bellyache and causes them to eat grass.
When morning dew is on the grass, rain will never come to pass: I’ve mostly found this to be true here in Minnesota, and as it turns out, there’s a scientific basis for it. If the night is clear (no clouds), the ground cools sufficiently to allow due to form. And if there are no clouds…good weather is ahead, right?
Leaves will flip before heavy rain or a storm: Although some people thought I was nuts when I was little, the leaves on some trees do seem to flip or turn over before a storm. Leaves can become limp in response to abrupt changes in humidity that generally come with a storm, and this allows the slightest breeze to flip them over. This is also the reason I bought my very first FoxFire book: pre-internet, it was the only place I’d ever seen leaves flipping over before heavy rain mentioned, and I finally felt validated.
Smoke rises high with good weather: With an outdoor wood boiler (and an affinity for cooking over a campfire) I spend a lot of time paying attention to smoke. When you build a fire and smoke rises high, that generally means fair weather is on its way. If the smoke stays low, it means the air is “heavy” and it’s a good clue that rain is in the near future.
If campfire smoke hurts your eyes, rain is on its way: Ever noticed how sometimes campfire or wood stove smoke will bother your eyes more than other times? It’s been said that the atmosphere is different enough the day before rain or a storm that the smoke will actually sting your eyes more than if there isn’t rain coming. I’ve found this to be mostly true in my own experience.
Unusually rambunctious behavior from children and animals forecasts a storm: While kiddos and animals can be crazy anytime, I swear by the fact that they are unusually rambunctious right before a storm comes. Before a was a farmgirl, I was a preschool teacher and let me tell you—we could totally tell when a storm was on its way by the level of hyperactivity in my classroom! And just recently, my always calm and well mannered 7 year old lab attempted to run after the mail truck on our dead end dirt road—hours before a snowstorm hit.
Watch the clouds: I can clearly remember my junior high science class realization that different kinds of clouds actually meant different things. The information regarding which clouds predict a coming storm and which clouds mean fair weather is too much to add here, so I encourage you to do your own research for that.
Other old fashioned weather prediction tips…
There are a lot of old fashioned weather prediction tips out there. Clearly, I haven’t studied all of them long enough to declare their accuracy. Additionally, I’ve also discovered that some old fashioned weather prediction tips simply don’t apply or hold true in all areas of the world.
Sore joints, headaches predicting rain: Many people say they can predict rain or a coming storm just by how their body feels. Their joints get sore, an old injury bothers them, or they get a headache. As a reader shared, my back (tells me). I’ve fractured the lower four vertebrae on two separate occasions. Believe me, when a cold front or storm front is going to be coming through, I know it 36 to 48 hours ahead of time.
Width of stripe on a wooly bear/wooly worms: We’ve definitely got wooly bear caterpillars here, we see them a ton in the fall. I’ve never paid attention to the width of the stripe on their belly, though, or compared it to the winter that follows. The more orange, the milder the season, more black means more cold. There are some folks who swear by it, so this next year I’ll have to be better about checking out those wooly bears!
Thickness of onion skin: If you grow your own onions or have access to those that are locally grown, it is said you can determine how hard the winter is going to be by checking the thickness of their skin. If the skin is thin and papery, you’re in for a mild winter. If the skin is thick, you’re in for a rougher, colder winter. I’ve not checked this as we’ve never successfully grown our own onions.
Layers or rings in an onion: From a member of my homesteading group on Facebook comes this tip: my grandma and her friend always cut up an onion on New Years and then look at the slices to see which months are going to be wet and which ones dry… I would have ask the exact technique but as long as it was a locally grown onion it was usually accurate.
Thunder during a snowstorm, six months until first frost: I’ve heard this claim many times here in Minnesota, and while I always notice when we have the rare thunder during a snowstorm, I almost always forget to write down when it happened so I can see if the date of the first frost holds true.
A special shout out to many members of my Farmish Folk Homesteading Group who filled me in on lots more old fashioned weather prediction tips that they swear by. I’ve included some of them here:
Old fashioned weather prediction tips using animals
We knew we were in trouble snow-wise (South Dakota) when the pheasants began to gather under the low-branched trees.
If the cows are lying down, it’s going to rain.
When the cattle gather together in one corner of the pasture you know the weather is coming. The closer they bunch, the worse the storm.
If the animals are extra ignorant, there’s a good chance the weather is changing in next 48 hours
I had a old Arabian cross mare years ago—if a weather change was coming, she was always extra edgy .
When the frogs stop chirping, there’s a storm coming.
Birds doing more frenzied foraging here in Central Virginia generally indicates some snow or ice in winter.
Yes, pigs go nuts when the weather is going to change!
When we butcher our venison, we take note of how thick the fat layer on the animal is. If it’s really thick we know we are in for a cold, long winter.
We watch our bees. Rain or front coming in they get a little more aggressive.
Old fashioned weather prediction tips using plants
When the Texas sage blooms, it will rain in the next week.
When the mesquite trees start to sprout, there will be no more hard freezes.
We watch the pecan leaves. They are the first to lose them and the last to get them. If the pecan leaves are on the trees, it is safe to plant. This is like gospel to the old farmers around here…
Our old-timer friend never planted before Easter, said you’d get hosed every time if you planted a big garden before Easter.
A man just a couple weeks ago commented on the persimmon trees in the field, here in east texas. He said that they have something in the seeds that tell what the weather will be like here for this winter. He cut open a few seeds and said if they have a ‘spoon’ it will be wet, a’ fork’ dry, and a knife ‘ cold’. It had a spoon, and it has been so wet…it is way above average.
Old fashioned weather prediction tips using the sky and the air
I swear by (and my neighbor has been tracking for 40+ years) the fog calendar—and it’s scary accurate. From July 1 onward, you track foggy days—like thick fog that lasts until late AM—and count 3 cycles of the moon ahead (90 days) and that pretty accurately predicts the next round of moisture.
The first fog of the year predicts the first snow of the year. Count 90 days from the first foggy morning (I believe in August) and it’ll predict the first snow fall.
Old fashioned weather prediction tips – which work best for you?
“The only thing I can tell you is when the weatherman says real bad weather is coming, I park my truck under cover…and it passes us by.” — Farmish Folk Homesteading member
With all the fancy weather forecasting equipment available nowadays, sometimes the experts still can’t get it right. The amazing thing is that the more time you spend outside, the more you will be able to sense what kind of weather is coming. Sometimes you can’t even point to anything other than the way the air smells or the way you feel—you just know something is on its way.
That sorta makes you the expert, doesn’t it?
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