This is an entry in our current non-fiction writing contest by Petnumber1
“In the spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.” –Mark Twain
My paternal grandpa was a good ol’ boy of Scottish descent who grew up in the mountains of North Carolina. When they needed meat, he and his brothers hunted or fished. His sister and mom kept a garden full of veggies, melons, and herbs…and grains and grandma’s chickens and ducks took up the rest of the property. They also grew nut and fruit trees and berry vines, got their beef and pork from a relative’s farm, and foraged for what they didn’t grow or trade for. Grandpa’s father was in charge of the whiskey still. With all the time and care that went into these subsistence activities, there was one overriding factor that could help or hinder them….or in the worst of circumstances, could wipe out all of their hard work in the blink of an eye (well, with the exception of the still – that was hidden under the house for obvious reasons – but that’s another story). Anyway, that one factor is weather.
Back in the day, there was no such thing as Doppler radar, hurricane spotters, tornado chasers, or even satellites….heck, most households (at least in his neck of the woods) didn’t even have a TV. If a hurricane hit the coast, there wasn’t 3-4 days’ notice. If an early frost hit, there was no warning to harvest the last of the tomatoes. If a thunderstorm rolled in the day after the grain was harvested and spread out to dry, it would mildew. And if a windstorm (very common in the mountains) blew through, there wasn’t enough notice to pick the tree fruits before they got mangled. The whole winter’s food supply could be lost. So Grandpa (and everyone of his era) knew how to “read” the weather. There were tips, tricks, and old wives’ tales they had known and learned all their lives to help them plan and prepare, and they used whatever instruments were available at the local farm store or they could make themselves.
This may be US one day. In the event of an EMP, power grid failure, nuclear attack, or anything that takes out our basic infrastructure, we can reasonably expect The Weather Channel, weather.com, and Jim Cantore to go right along with it. We will be on our own in understanding the weather and planning our activities around it. And unfortunately, because of micro-climates and local trends, complex upper and lower-altitude winds, and how uniquely the weather impacts each of our prepping plans individually, it’s probably not a science we can learn quickly if the SHTF. So we’d better start learning now.
Some things we just know inherently. For example, in the US, weather tends to move west to east (with a few notable exceptions such as the upper east coast where nor’easters….storms that move northeast to southwest occur). Hurricanes on the east coast tend to move east to west and south to north. If you’ve ever been to coastal Florida, it’s common to see all the palm trees growing in the same direction – which has to do with the prevailing wind direction. In winter in the west, most of the cold fronts come from the northwest. Those (and a whole lot other regional trends) are good high-level things to know about whatever area we call home. But what about the day-to-day weather that impacts whether we plan to work in the garden or make soap inside that day? There are three ways:
- 1. Old wives’ tales/lore
- 2. Weather instruments
- 3. Local knowledge
Old Wives Tales/Lore
I spent an hour on the phone with my dad the other day talking about this. He recalled things he had always heard from his parents, and things he learned as a young man on a ship in the Navy. Some made perfect sense, others didn’t, and some just made me giggle. Here are a few:
Does your knee or hip always ache when it rains? Do you get a headache or pressure in your sinuses? Drops in barometric (air) pressure can often cause achiness in our joints and bones. And this low air pressure is also a condition where storms occur.
Watch the birds. Flocks of birds tend to fly at a lower altitude when a storm is coming, again because the lower air pressure preceding a storm can be uncomfortable for them. Of course, to know if birds are flying low on any given day, you have to have an idea of how they usually fly. These are things we need to be observing and learning now.
“A ring around the moon, rain is coming soon.” A ring (or halo) around the moon is created when very thin, high-altitude clouds are present. They indicate moisture in the air.
You can predict whether a storm is brewing by pouring a hot cup of coffee and sitting it on the table. If the bubbles at the top move to the edges of the cup quickly, it’s because of high pressure, and high pressure generally means clear weather. If they tend to stay in the middle of the cup, they are being affected by low pressure, which indicates a storm may be on the way.
Pay attention to animals. Cows apparently often lie down in the pasture just before it rains. Horses tend to graze with their rear ends facing into the wind. In good weather, this usually means the west, again because weather tends to move west to east. On a more sinister note, critters that tend to live below ground (like many snakes, some frogs, ants, etc. will often come out of their holes en masse right before a seismic event. For people living near the coasts, seagulls flocking to shore often indicate a storm is coming in. Finally, all outdoor animals grow thicker fur in fall – but if your animals’ coats seem to grow even thicker than usual, that indicates a cold, stormy winter.
Watch your fire. If the smoke from an outdoor fire swirls around and dips instead of rising straight up into the sky, it often means bad weather is on the way.
Thunder and lightning in the winter means that snow can be expected within 7-10 days. Neither I nor my dad has any idea why, but he learned that from his dad.
“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.” This comes from the general understanding that weather tends to move west to east in the US (and I guess in the rest of the northern hemisphere as well). It’s always a good idea to pause and watch the sunrise and the sunset…not only because they are beautiful, but because they will also give you an idea of what kind of weather to expect in the coming hours.
Trees tend to produce bigger-than-usual pine cones before an unusually cold and snowy winter. Similarly, acorn hulls are thicker and so are corn husks.
And so on and so on. Whether these are true indicators of coming weather or just old wives’ tales, I don’t know, but lore and clichés often have a basis in truth! What is some old weather folklore you’ve grown up with?
Maybe a better idea is to be sure weather instruments that don’t depend on electricity are a part of our preps. After all, if you’re in the middle of a massive thunderstorm and there’s no regional power, which means no tornado alarms (and no Al Roker) – how do you know it’s time to head to the basement? At minimum, my dad the sailor, always had:
- · Barometer – this shows air pressure, which can be used to predict a coming storm. The lower the pressure, the bigger the disturbance
- · Thermometer – shows the current temperature
- · Anemometer – shows wind speed
- · Hygrometer – measures humidity
- · Rain gauge – allows you to measure precipitation (for recording and tracking purposes)
When thinking about a SHTF scenario, while many home weather stations run on battery power, we want to also buy non-electronic versions of these instruments, because some of them download information from other sources and the station transmitting the information may not be operating. It’s also a good idea to download and print both instructions for using these instruments, and general weather information for our survival binders. I’ll bet a LOT of you are armchair meteorologists, just like my dad and me. J
If you’ve lived in a particular place for a long time and don’t plan on leaving, you can ignore this section of the article. But if we plan to bug out to a different location, are too busy to pay attention to our local weather conditions and predictive markers, or somehow end up in a region or topography we aren’t familiar with, we aren’t going to know what the local conditions are. There are high-level common elements (heavier wind in the mountains, desert vs. valley conditions, coastal vs. inland humidity), but we would be at a severe disadvantage when it comes to everyday conditions. This is a great reason to get to know our neighbors or folks in the nearest town.
Ask about local lore and guidance around the weather – farmers and feed store employees are terrific resources. For example, when I moved to Utah, one of the first things I learned (from a local greenhouse owner) was not to plant summer crops until Mother’s Day weekend. That’s the kind of stuff we need to know. Talk to local gardeners, agricultural extensions, and other resources about everything…from which crops tend to do better in the area to even the specific cultivars you should plant (making sure to use heirloom varieties). Another example: we have short summers here. When I planted my first garden, I dutifully waited until 2 weeks after our last frost to plant my corn, as advised. But I had purchased a cultivar that took 100 days to mature, because that’s what I had always planted. The poor things got killed by frost long before they were ripe. After that fiasco, I learned to plant corn that would mature in 60-65 days. It was a good lesson, but in a SHTF scenario, we won’t have time for these kinds of “experiments.”
So if you live in a valley but your bug-out location is in the mountains, talk to the locals in advance and find out everything you can about the weather. At the very least, buy a copy of the Farmer’s Almanac, download and print out a detailed hardiness planting zone map, and look at the seed packets you have stored (if you bought them from a non-local source). Make sure the time-to-harvest on the package matches the growing season length in your current or bug-out location.
Women are hard to figure out, and Mother Nature is no different. So it’s a part of the knowledge-gathering aspect of prepping we can’t neglect. Our lives may depend on it!
(Note: many of the items below are sourced from Amazon – if you purchase, be sure to use MD’s link)
Student weather kits (these are good ones to have on hand for kids or adults who are just beginning to learn about weather measurement, and they are manual as opposed to battery-powered or electronic. Some also include tracking charts so you can see trends and patterns):
Make your own weather instruments: http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/wwatch/gather_data/
Battery-powered indoor/outdoor weather stations (Lacrosse Technology is one of the highest-rated companies for these instruments, so I’m showing only these – I’m not affiliated with the company in any way, but based on user reviews and my own personal experience, they are top- of-the-line, yet still very affordable. Be sure the one you choose has barometric/air pressure readings):
Books (these focus on weather for the layperson; they are not textbooks or scientific texts):
Plant Hardiness Zones:
Southeastern US hurricane tracking chart: http://www.srh.noaa.gov/images/mob/pdf/MOB_chart.pdf
Rain gauge weekly chart:
All sorts of weather charts:
A comprehensive simple chart:
Prizes for this round (ends May 24 2014) in our non fiction writing contest include…
- First place winner will receive – A $150 gift certificate for Hornady Ammo courtesy of LuckyGunner, a Wonder Junior Deluxe grain mill courtesy of Kitchen Neads, a one year subscription to the Personal VPN service courtesy of unspyable and Three Survival Seed Vaults courtesy of LPC Survival.
- Second place winner will receive – Brand New, Sealed Case of Military MREs (Meal, Ready-To-Eat) a $119 value courtesy of Campingsurvival.com and a Survival Puck courtesy of Innovation Industries.
- Third place winner will receive – a copy of my book ”31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness“ and “Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat” courtesy of TheSurvivalistBlog.net a copy of “The Survival Medicine Handbook” courtesy of www.doomandbloom.net and a copy Herbal Antivirals and Herbal Antibiotics .