Prepping for the Weather – What You Need to Know to Keep Your Family Safe

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

lightningMy 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,, 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?

Weather Instruments

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:

  1. · Barometer – this shows air pressure, which can be used to predict a coming storm. The lower the pressure, the bigger the disturbance
  2. · Thermometer – shows the current temperature
  3. · Anemometer – shows wind speed
  4. · Hygrometer – measures humidity
  5. · 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

Local Knowledge

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!

Resources :

(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:

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:

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…

  1. 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.
  2. Second place winner will receive – Brand New, Sealed Case of Military MREs (Meal, Ready-To-Eat)  a $119 value courtesy of and a Survival Puck  courtesy of Innovation Industries.
  3. 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 a copy of “The Survival Medicine Handbook” courtesy of and a copy Herbal Antivirals and Herbal Antibiotics .


  1. Don’t forget the modern sources for weather to keep one safe.

    1. A Weather Radio in your BOB. The weather radio transmitters are nationwide. The link … … provides more information.

    2. Your local weather service office does daily updates for forecasts and is responsible for issuing warnings. Those are streamed, in many places, to social media as well as broadcast media and the weather radio receivers mentioned above. Put your zip code in the link … … to find your local forecast, etc.

    3. Don’t forget your local Skywarn group will have an interest in your safety and have a plethora of tips for the local weather season. See for more information. Many of your local Skywarn programs are operated within the local emergency management program. See your local emergency manager for details about the local weather and tips of how to plan.

    Hope that helps.


    • There’s nothing quite like the DH trying to report hail over the Ham radio in his car while we are getting pounded by the hail on the way home. The BIL heard the DH and said he could barely understand a word said. Most of the hammers we know also are amateur weather watchers.

    • Petnumber1 says:

      Hi Lloyd, these are great resources – thanks! For now, anyway. 🙂 I really wanted to think about what we’d need to know if there were no internet, TV, or transmitting stations which could affect radio broadcasts. But I’m right there with you – I have (at last count) 11 weather radios….can’t live without ’em! 🙂

  2. Mare’s tails – the thin wispy clouds which look like a line of horse’s tails, pony tails, etc – often form on the headwinds of storm systems. If the sky is full of mare’s tails, rain usually follows within 2-3 days.

  3. What an excellent article! Thank you, Petnumber1.

    While I have a few weather instruments, I’ve not really considered all this from the prepper’s perspective. What an oversight!

    Just one minor correction from somebody who has lived in the northeast forever (okay, just 60 years.) A nor’easter actually moves to the northeast, not from the northeast.

  4. Very good article on something we rarely hear about. Thanks.

  5. WeatherMan says:

    This is a good book on weather lore by Albert Lee. I have the 1976 version but apparently he updated it in 1990. You can find it on or amazon.

    Weather Wisdom: Facts and Folklore of Weather Forecasting.

    Thanks Petnumber for reminding me of the weather lore.

    • Petnumber1 says:

      Great tip – thanks! I haven’t read Albert Lee’s book, but I just put it on my wish list. You should be adding your tips – with a handle like WeatherMan, I’ll bet you have more tips than Dad and me could ever come up with! 🙂

  6. Lauri no e says:

    Very well written article. Thank you, for all the info.

  7. Back in high school a friend that worked on some local farms pointed out to me that dew on the grass late in the evening indicated the next day would be nice, generally clear sunny skies. Conversely, a dry lawn indicates approaching stormy weather. My personal observation over the years has proved this simple indicator quite accurate, however I don’t have any idea if there is a scientific basis of support.

    • I learned that dry grass in the morning (no morning dew) was an indicator of coming rain. It generally holds true.

    • Donna in MN says:

      I have known that is true with all the camping I used to do.

  8. Petticoat Prepper says:

    Yes, very good article! I’ve not thought about any of this from a prepping perspective, what an over sight! I’ve got my marbles rolling around now trying to remember all those old family sayings from the farm. Guess I’ll have to get a page in my notebook and write them down as I remember them.

  9. Donna in MN says:

    Thanks for the article. When weather stations don’t report my local weather which is often, I do the wives tales predicting it or read the internet radar for possible tornados coming my way.

    If I am summer camping in the woods I listen to the number of cricket chirps for the temperature, but they don’t chirp under 50 degrees up here which makes it hauntingly quiet at night. You use your watch with a second hand, count the number of chirps in 14 seconds and add 40 more for degrees F.

    I also have a barometer on fishing freshwater and hasn’t failed me for 40 years. When the cows are laying down and other animals are resting, most larger fish are too. Usually it is a high pressure system and makes it harder to fish, so I use slow bait and fish deeper water, preferably on the bottom.I tended to catch large fish this way but only a couple for all day fishing. When the barometer is bringing in a low pressure front, this is the time I catch lots of fish and usually my limit in an hour…the water is choppier, it excites the fish more, and bugs fly low on the water surface.

    I did find a direction the wind blows, it affects fishing too combined with pressure systems generally. Fishing is least when the wind’s from the east. Wind from the south brings up the largemouth. Wind from the west makes fishing the best. North winds when cold are excellent Northern Pike fishing.

    Weather has a lot to do with freshwater fishing, so before I go I know my chances. Some go by the moon phases, but maybe thats for ocean fishing and the tides.

    • Petnumber1 says:

      LOL, Donna, my dad mentioned the cricket chirp thing, but I thought it was too ridiculous to even mention. Oooops, guess the joke is on me – it’s amazing how something as simple as a cricket can help us out! Thanks for posting that one! 🙂

  10. Most of my family members and I can tell when there are changes in the barometric pressure, especially my youngest daughter who is 18. This past winter has been rather painful.

    Thanks for the tips and especially for the reminder – I need to get a barometer.

  11. DB Prepper says:

    Great article. My grandfather used to try and teach me about the weather when I was a little squirt. Not much of what he taught stuck though, except the “pain in my knee comes around only before a big storm” bit. His knee was broken in WW2 from a mortar shell I am told.

    Fortunately yet unfortunately I do not have a knee or hip or back joint issue so the one weather tip I remember never did me any good!

  12. Tactical G-Ma says:

    Petnumber 1
    Great and useful article!

  13. Good information to have. It’s like a semester of atmospheric physics condensed into a few paragraphs.

  14. Texanadian says:

    I use the weather rock

    Some examples of the instructions for the weather stone include:

    If the rock is wet, it’s raining.
    If the rock is swinging, the wind is blowing.
    If the rock casts a shadow, the sun is shining.
    If the rock does not cast a shadow and is not wet, the sky is cloudy.
    If the rock is not visible, it is foggy.
    If the rock is white, it is snowing.
    If the rock is coated with ice, there is a frost.
    If the ice is thick, it’s a heavy frost.
    If the rock is bouncing, there is an earthquake.
    If the rock is under water, there is a flood.
    If the rock is warm, it is sunny.
    If the rock is missing, there was a tornado.
    If the rock is wet and swinging violently, there is a hurricane.
    If the rock has white splats on it, watch out for birds.

  15. tommy2rs says:

    I can always tell when the weather is about to change. My joints, especially my hands and the steel in my back get to aching. Trouble is it works both ways, good to bad or bad to good. Durn weather….lol

  16. Great Article but darn, another thing I need to learn :(.

    I do have one additional thing that I learned the hard way. Having survived a tornado I can add that I noticed the dogs acting crazy. Even up to 12 hours before it hit. I had several dogs run out in front of my vehicle and my own dog that was tied to a tree (don’t remember why she was as she was in a fenced in yard) frantically digging a hole in the ground. She had just had a litter of puppies two days before. After the storm the tree she was tied to was laying on my house along with 3 more trees. Those trees all hit the same steel door that held their weight and kept them from crushing my home. She was wedged between the trees (german shepherd) and the puppies were underneath her. We lost one puppy in that storm. It took 4 guys running 3 chainsaws 3 full days of cutting to get the trees off of the house, then another month to get rid of all of the debris. So any time I know we have a chance of a storm I pay attention to how the animals are acting. They are great predictors.

    • Our cats hide behind the sofa if there is bad weather nearby – long before we know it is there sometimes. The last bad storm, we noticed the alpha cat duck behind the sofa and turned on the news. Sure enough, there was a tornado nearby.

  17. TNfarmer says:

    We also had a tornado hit our homestead. Beautiful sunny day, then black clouds arrived, then hail. This was in June. Now, whenever it hails in the warm months, we head for cover. You may not get any more warning than that. My dogs also crowded around us just before the tornado hit. Plan on not having any electricity to run radios so make sure they are battery powered. If there is a really bad situation (EMP, Nuke, etc) there will probably be no broadcasts for weather anyway.

    Great article. Thanks for posting it. Something else to spend more money on. 🙂

    • HiPlains says:

      Kids are great weather predictors! If they are exceptionally loud and rambunctious, my bet is there is a storm coming. They are always crazy before a big snowstorm.

  18. hvaczach says:

    Well as of now my ankle is a pretty good indicator, but this is something I worry about winter storms are a real threat where I live below zero with 50 mph winds happen. We also get Tornado’s 105 degree heat and the occasional flash flood.

  19. axelsteve says:

    My best friend was kinda a clutz and broke many bones in his teenage years. He knows when the weather is going to change cause something will ache or hurt.

  20. max1313 says:

    Great article. Thanks,
    I love how the pioneer country stock used these tricks and tips to predict weather.
    Here in central SC the weather can change every 30 minutes or less. We dress for both too warm and too cold in the same day in the spring and fall.
    After living here for more than 40 years I’ve come to expect a big snow every 5-7 years but this year we had two back to back. The day before each of them was sunny and warm in the 70’s. SC has always been stubborn and obstinate and sometimes downright contrary. The weather too,
    The only weather I can predict is cold and wet based on my knee joints. Everything else is a crapshoot here.
    But I would still like to get a barometer set up.
    Keep those tips coming folks.

  21. We love the old farmer’s observations and try to learn and test them…. we had heard again about the ring around the moon… husband always calls it a moondog…….. but in the last year or 2, the kids and I have been watching such things more. Last year, just before 2 of our major storms we noticed rings…..once around the moon and once around the sun….both storms were severe and dumped a lot.

    Thank you for combining all of this info in one place. So much to learn. My kids love watching the “wooly worm” to see if it will be a hard winter. We are still learning how to tell the temperature from the chirps of a cricket, but haven’t mastered it yet. When we have done it (using directions! :), it was very accurate.

  22. When I was teaching, we used to make barometers in class using a jar, a balloon, and a straw. is a link for a simple one. We also would make hygrometers using a students long hair. We would take one strand of hair and attach it to a board. We could then attach a paper clip to the other end. The hair would move up and down according to the amount of moisture in the air.

  23. Leonard Anderson says:
  24. When the ocean goes absolutely glassy, mirrored, flat as a sheet of glass, head for high ground and a sturdy shelter. Hurricane coming.

    I was down on the smallest of the Cayman Islands in August, 1969 and that happened. I thought it was weird, and pretty cool, but the Caymanians were not happy. A hurricane was forming around us.

    Turned out to be Hurricane Camille, one of three Category 5s to hit the US in the 20th century. We were lucky as it never got much over 70 miles per hour where we were, but it hit the Gulf Coast at closing in on 200.

    There was not a ripple on the sea. Zip.

  25. mom of three says:

    Living so close to the water, we watch the seagulls if they come into town then we know a storm, is on it’s way. My hubby, if he is hurting a lot then it’s rain. Flowers, tree’s, are also a good weather instrument too. If our flowering plum trees, put out blossoms in February, we are in for a cold wet spring, cold wet summer. If they flower in March, ( which they did yippy) then we have a good warm spring, good hot summer! Next week we will be in the 60’s which is almost summer weather in the beautiful northwest 🙂

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