How to: follow weather clues

weather vane

Knowing what’s coming up weather-wise is a boon for farmers, fishermen and others whose livelihoods depend on it but also for gardeners and smallholders who can better plan their precious time on the plot. There are signs all around you – if you know where to find them.

Look up

Knowing your clouds is crucial. They mean rain only if they grow very large; the anvil-shaped cumulonimbus is a breeding ground for hail, thunder and lightening.
The manifesto of The Cloud Appreciation Society includes a reminder that, "clouds are an expression of the atmosphere's moods and can be read like those of a person's countenance". Puffy white cumulus are known as fair-weather clouds as they often form on top of hot air currents that rise from sun-warmed ground. Coupled with a glance at a weathervane, clouds can provide a fairly accurate forecast for the next few hours.

Look down

Who needs meteorological gadgets? The scales of pine cones in dry weather shrivel up and stand out stiffly but when it is damp they absorb moisture and scales become flexible and a normal cone shape. Morning glory and scarlet pimpernel close their petals when rain is on the way, while kelp swells and becomes damp.

Look around

Wildlife and even domestic animals can sense impending weather changes. Birds can detect shifts in barometric pressure - a low pressure system often brings rain, wind and clouds. This may explain the saying, ‘Seabirds, stay out from the land, we won't have good weather while you're on the sand.'

Another maxim, ‘Swallows high, staying dry; swallows low, wet will blow', also holds true as during fine weather, the insects that the birds feed on are carried up high on thermal currents. If the midges are biting more than usual, a storm could be on the way; the theory being that it is their last chance to feed before the rain. And every child learns that cows lying down means impending rain - based on the belief that cattle sense moisture in the air and ensure they have somewhere dry to lie down.

Aches & pains?
A recent study on 130 patients with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis found they had more pain when there was a drop in atmospheric pressure. So if you feel bad weather ‘in your bones' it might be wise to take note.

Listen to the past

According to a recent government poll, seven out of ten of us set store by weather-themed old wives' tales. A sign that spring has arrived is in the trees: "If oak flowers before the ash we shall have a splash. If the ash flowers before the oak then we shall have a soak," which is a good indicator of the following few weeks' weather, as oak has deeper roots and so does better in drier conditions.

While a little country knowledge can go a long way, it's not an exact science, as an online phenologist muses:

"Moles, frogspawn, and an old wives' tale/To predict the weather 'twill surely fail./Get online and surf the net/To find out if the morrow will be wet."

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