Backyard Weather Forecasting

Weather forecasting through observation of cloud types, wind direction, air pressure, and other factors is a practical skill to have ...and an enjoyable hobby, too!

| September/October 1981

  • 071 weather forecasting 01 cumulus congestus2
    Puffy cumulus congestus clouds on a sunny day. When slow-moving they signal fair weather. Fast movers are often followed by storms.
    PHOTO: JUDY COBB
  • 071 weather forecasting 02 cirrus
    Wispy, white cirrus clouds form at the highest altitudes and are primarily composed of ice crystals.
    JUDY COBB
  • 071 weather forecasting 03 cirrocumulus
    Precipitation is likely in 24 hours when cirrocumulus clouds are accompanied by northeast to southerly winds, while north or western winds signal dry weather.
    JUDY COBB
  • 071 weather forecasting 06 stratus
    Stratus clouds accompanies by winds from the northeast to south announce heavy precipitation.
    JUDY COBB
  • 071 weather forecasting 04 cumulus
    When gently rounded and white, cumulus clouds presage fair weather. However, they can also grow into tall thunderheads.
    JUDY COBB
  • 071 weather forecasting 07 cumulonimbus
    Dark, heavy cumulonimbus clouds carry violent thunderstorms and sometimes spawn tornadoes.
    JUDY COBB
  • 071 weather forecasting 05 altocumulus
    Precipitation is likely 15 to 20 hours after the appearance of altocumulus clouds.
    JUDY COBB
  • 071 weather forecasting 08 cirrostratus
    When they form a halo around the sun or moon, icy high altitude cirrostratus clouds herald precipitation.
    JUDY COBB
  • 071 weather forecasting 10 turtle
    Turtles and other reptiles become more active before a storm.
    JUDY COBB
  • 071 weather forecasting 09 rainbow
    The colors that dominate a rainbow provide weather clues. Blue indicates the air is clearing, while green or red signal more precipitation.
    JUDY COBB
  • 071 weather forecasting 12 pitcher plant
    Although many plants close their leaves before a downpour, the pitcher plants open wide.
    JUDY COBB
  • 071 weather forecasting 13 otter2
    Animals that make their homes near creeks or rivers, such as the otter, move their young to higher ground before the onset of heavy rains.
    JUDY COBB
  • 071 weather forecasting 11 eagle
    Birds fly lower—or not at all—when the air pressure drops.
    JUDY COBB

  • 071 weather forecasting 01 cumulus congestus2
  • 071 weather forecasting 02 cirrus
  • 071 weather forecasting 03 cirrocumulus
  • 071 weather forecasting 06 stratus
  • 071 weather forecasting 04 cumulus
  • 071 weather forecasting 07 cumulonimbus
  • 071 weather forecasting 05 altocumulus
  • 071 weather forecasting 08 cirrostratus
  • 071 weather forecasting 10 turtle
  • 071 weather forecasting 09 rainbow
  • 071 weather forecasting 12 pitcher plant
  • 071 weather forecasting 13 otter2
  • 071 weather forecasting 11 eagle

Like a number of other government agencies, the National Weather Service has felt the blade of President Reagan's budget cuts. It will soon be losing 5% of its personnel and closing 38 local weather-reporting stations across the country. And while the agency claims that public safety (in matters involving storm warnings and the like) won't be adversely affected by the belt tightening, it freely admits that local forecasts simply won't be as accurate as they have been.

Therefore, skill in do-it-yourself weather forecasting could come in mighty handy in the years ahead. Besides, when you become familiar with your particular locality's weather patterns, you'll probably be better at short-range forecasting than meteorologists 50 or 100 miles away could ever be.

The fact is that nature is chock-full of helpful clues for weather predicting. Of course, no single one of them will prove correct on every occasion, but by using pieces of such evidence in combination, you can often produce uncannily accurate forecasts. Keep in mind, of course, that some of the following tips (especially those concerning winds) may have to be modified to suit your region, particularly if you live near a mountain range or large body of water. However, once you learn the local patterns, you'll likely find them consistent enough to enable you to adapt the general information given here.

In any case, a cumulus cloud is a cumulus cloud, whether it's floating over Canada, South Africa, or Australia. So let's look first at the various types of airborne weather forecasters.



Feathers, Fleece, and Fog

There are three basic groups of clouds: cirrus (the feathers), cumulus (the fleece), and stratus (the fog).

The highest fliers are cirrus clouds: wispy, white configurations that are composed primarily of ice crystals. When you see these feathery formations scattered sparsely in a mostly blue sky, expect a sunny day. Remember, however, that the delicate, silky, hairlike tufts (sometimes known as "mares' tails") travel at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour and precede weather fronts. Cirrus will frequently be followed—within a period of hours—by other cloud formations, which will vary in type according to the temperature of the front that's moving in.






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