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.


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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