Before there was TV and Radio that broadcast weather warnings via the tools meteorologists use today, there were natural signs and conditions most people used to speculate on impending weather. Many of us can readily recognize some signs of impending weather simply by stepping outside our homes and looking up into the sky. Such obvious indicators are developing clouds and wind velocity. But what if there was an electrical blackout or you’re out on a wilderness vacation - could you decipher the signs and determine what kind of worsening conditions you are in for?
READING THE CLOUDS
Clouds in and of themselves are not always signs for coming bad weather. Most float harmlessly overhead allowing our imaginations to view the images we discern from them as they move over us. But some do indicate weather that will create changes in precipitation and temperature.
Low thick clouds are sometimes indicators of developing storms. Type 2 cumulus clouds develop when a deep heating/lifting and moisture layer rises from the terrain and is sufficient to promote cloud development. Towering Cumulus clouds, that are taller than they are wider, can produce showers and water spouts on occasion. Cumulonimbus clouds are larger and are frequently referred to as thunderheads that can produce lightning, thunder and rain and on occasion, severe weather such as hail, high winds, or tornadoes.
Stratocumulus clouds (SC) commonly form during the winter and spring. These clouds are not necessarily indicative of bad weather approaching and in the case of Type 5 SC harmlessly follow a cold front. On the other hand a type 6 SC indicates that colder weather is approaching. They are grey in color and shapeless, lying less than 1500 feet above ground. Stratus fractus or cumulus fractus (Type 7) clouds are also found less than 1500 feet above ground level and occur on the edge of showers and thunderstorms and typically occur in warm and humid summer months.
The lower the clouds the bigger the indicator of bad weather coming. If they increase in number and display rapid movement, be prepared to take shelter. Heavy down pours are not far away. Light, scattered clouds alone in a clear sky and sharp, clearly defined edges to clouds are indicative of strong winds coming. Images of these cloud formations can be viewed at NOAA’s website here.
OTHER NATURAL SIGNS
“Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning," as part of a rhyming reminder from days gone by tells us that there is not only dust in the air but that it’s being pushed by a low pressure system that will likely bring rain. Rainbows are also natural barometers of inclement damp weather especially when they appear out of the west in the morning.
A ring or “halo” around the moon indicates there are ice crystals in the upper atmosphere. These form into cirrus clouds that develop at these heights (15,000 to 30,000 ft.) and precede a warm front by 2-3 days. This warm front is associated with low pressure systems or for our purposes, storm conditions. Part of moon ring folklore believes that “the number of stars within a moon halo indicate the number of days before bad weather will arrive”.
Animals also display behaviors that warn us of severe weather if we know what to look for. Nervous motions by most animals reveal a sense that tornadoes may be near. Bees that stay close to their hive on some days tells us rain may be likely. Watch for pigs or squirrels to be active in gathering materials to insulate themselves; cold weather is not far away.
Other natural conditions that are warning signs for rain are the appearance of distant objects that seem to stand above the horizon, sounds become very clear and can be heard for great distances and the air becomes hazy and sticky. Yellow sunsets and unusually bright stars in the night sky are advanced warnings for strong winds.
Radar - Hi-tech graphics of radar images that show the intensity and motions of threatening weather. Some technology is so advanced it can even show us placement of active lightning strikes.
Barometers - A mechanical barometer reads atmospheric pressure - the air around us - and as it drops the chance for rain and storms increases. Below a reading of 30 should alert you to be concerned and if it begins to drop rapidly then more severe storms are likely. Not all barometers at all times will depict actual occurrences but they are a tool that can be used with other indicators as we watch for changing weather conditions.
Chimneys - Smoke from fireplaces and industrial stacks reveal information about impending weather. The heat from smoke when released is less dense than the ambient air it releases into, allowing it to rise. If this smoke tends to remain low then atmospheric conditions are becoming unstable and are warning us that low pressure exists and rain is likely.
DETERIORATING WEATHER AND CLIMATE CHANGES
Your local weather conditions are a factor of climate conditions in other parts of our world. Weather is temporary and local whereas climate is an average of global weather patterns around the planet and more long term in nature. Climate is what you expect like cold winters and weather is what you get, like snow fall one day or all week and spring like conditions the next.
The hydrology cycle is a system that determines how precipitation develops and how transference occurs that effects floods and droughts. This system is heavily influenced in a variety of ways by increased temperatures on our planet. The increased warming of our oceans is but a single variant of this system that will determine rainfall in warmer climes and snow fall in colder ones.
There appears to be a debate among some that global warming conditions are either with us or they’re not and whether they are natural or are man-made. The science is pretty clear to those who are open to the evidence. Anthropogenic global warming is a reality and one of the biggest clues is the increase of CO2 with an isotope signature that comes from oil and coal and gathers in our atmosphere creating a warming trend we call the green house effect.
This global warming appears to be affecting local weather patterns around the planet and at levels we are unaccustomed to. The visible indicators for this are longer and more frequent floods and droughts, snows melting in mountain glaciers that create overflowing rivers that flood lowlands and along with melting ice sheets in arctic/antarctic regions create rising sea levels that devastate island communities and habitats along coast lines.
The devil is still in the details on some of the research but the writing on the wall is clear. Most of the general public is at the lower levels of the learning curve on this issue, thanks in part to a skepticism that has arisen with special interest within the fossil fuel industry. The other culprit is time. By comparison this potential global threat is slow moving in terms of issues that confront us on a daily basis.
But that is changing dramatically and within the next decade we will see grander and more frequent deteriorating weather as a result of climate change from the green house effect. The indicators are there but the public reaction lags behind. It’s going to take a serious paradigm shift to facilitate a change in policies that reduce our use of fossil fuels and convert to cleaner, renewable energy sources. It behooves us all to get involved now locally, nationally and globally to impact where we can those factors causing the destructive weather behavior that seems to be on the rise.
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