Have you ever wondered why the robin goes to nest right before a storm? Scientists have surmised two reasons. One is the low pressure air, that comes with storms and is harder for birds to fly in due to its density. The second is the instinct within the robin to protect her frail nest from the elements. (An instinct I believe is put there by our Creator) Storms – and the winds that carry them – are certainly a force to be reckoned with. Like the robin, we mustn't find ourselves unprepared at the last moment.
We all know that the daily weather is nothing more than massive conflicts in the sky overhead. Huge blobs of air, called air masses, fight it out to see who is King for the day. They are constantly moving about and bumping into each other and just like that, the day's weather is created. It's kinda like bumper cars! The only difference is they are moved by winds that follow consistent patterns in the atmosphere. Unlike bumper cars which go any which way they can.
So where do these winds come from? First of all, the sun heats the air masses. Science studies have shown that hot air moves toward cold, and cold air is drawn to hot. So air at the equator is drawn to the North and South Poles, and the cold air at the poles is drawn to the equator. Presto! Wind currents are formed. But instead of just traveling north and south on the Earth, the Earth's rotation on its axis causes them to travel more west to east in the Northern hemisphere and east to west in the Southern hemisphere. So any change in a westerly wind patterns in the USA, generally means foul weather is on the way. This old American folk rhyme says it well, (before technology was around):
When the wind is in the north, the skillful fisher goes not forth;
When the wind is in the east, 'tis good for neither man nor beast;
When the wind is in the south, it blows the flies in the fish's mouth;
But when the wind is in the west, there it is the very best!
These air masses which form are as unique as a sponge. Wherever they start or linger, they “absorb” that region's characteristics. Like smoke on clothes or mustiness in cellars. For example, if they start over polar waters, they will be cold and wet; if over polar land regions, cold and dry; if over the tropics, warm and humid; if over water, damp and wet. The common factor in air masses is that there are only really two basic types – warm and cold. And they do not get along! When they meet, there is an epic battle for control which can be felt in thunderstorms, snow, hail, rain and high winds and in extremes tornadoes, whirlwinds, and hurricanes. As an observation weather forecaster, if you can tell which one is coming, the better off you are.
Cold fronts are generally the ones to take notice of. They are the violent storm producers. Fast and furious! While the warm fronts are more mild, slow movers, and give more advance warnings. These truths show forth in this old saying:
“Rain long foretold, long last; Short notice, soon will pass.”
Or this one by Shakespeare:
“Small showers last long, but sudden storms are short.”
Here are some early tell signs to look for when identifying fronts. High altitude, Cirrus clouds are wispy and are called “mare's tails” because they are the first to be seen on warm fronts. Then there are the stratus clouds – which are flat, gray, and boring – that move in to leave a “leaden sky.” Usually, as the rain begins to drizzle, the cold front will make its intro with alto-cumulus clouds nicknamed “mackerel clouds” or “cotton balls.” These little cuties later become the nasty
thunderclouds that unleash their power in severe thunderstorms. As we learned earlier, hot air draws cold air and visa versa, so that is why we have so many wind changes in storms. When it finally turns westerly, in the USA, the storm is on its way out.
Another factor in weather science is high and low pressure. Just by monitoring air pressure throughout the day, you will have a good indicator of what is in store. Without going into much detail, simply put, high pressure means good weather and low pressure means unsettled weather and likely brewing storms. Barometers are the tool of choice and here is the old saying to compare:
When the glass falls low, prepare for a blow;
When it rises high, let all your kites fly.
Here are a few natural “barometers” to look for. Chickweed, called the poor man's barometer, closes up when air pressure drops. Waterfowl fly higher in the sky when air pressure drops because it hurts their ears. Also, you will notice animals more restless and people more edgy. Even the furniture will talk to you in creaking moans.
“Hark how the chairs and tables crack,
Old Betty's nerves are on the rack.
Twill surely rain; I see with sorrow,
our jaunt must be put off tomorrow.”
Humidity is a factor to monitor too. How many of you have experienced humidity so thick you could wear it or slice it with a knife? Here's a sailor saying to remember from days of yesteryear:
“Curls that kink and cords that bind; signs of rain and heavy winds.”
Sailors were also known to soak a piece of cloth in salt brine and let it dry. Since salt absorbs moisture, when the cloth became damp it foretold a coming storm's soon arrival. There really is so many things we could try!
As gardeners, the weather is an essential part of our world. Take notes and keep an open eye towards the skies. You'll never know what to expect otherwise.