Thursday, May 19, 2005

Some Weather Lore Still Works

The weather affects everyone from time to time: Spoiled picnics, rained-out vacations, and damaged homes are part of weather’s nasty side. But then there are the beautiful sunny days and clear, moonlit nights too.

I’ve always had an interest in the weather and how it works. I’ve also always given it a lot of respect, knowing what it can do to you if you don’t.

In today’s technological world, predicting the weather is a much more exact science than it used to be. It’s still not exact enough; tornadoes can still strike without warning. But it’s much better than it used to be.

For example, those who depended on weather a lot, like farmers and sailors, used to employ weather rhymes and sayings to help them forecast coming storms. But do these aphorisms really have a basis in science?

Surprisingly, some of them do. When it comes right down to it, weather can be broken down into just a few components. Humidity, air pressure, and wind are the three main indicators that can tell you whether or not it’s going to rain if you know how to read the signs.

Let’s look at some examples.

“When the dew is on the grass, Rain will never come to pass. When grass is dry at morning light, Look for rain before the night.”

Dew forms on the grass when the temperature falls quickly during the night, causing the moisture in the air to condense out on grass and car windshields. But if it’s cloudy, the temperature doesn’t fall very rapidly at night because the clouds act as a blanket, holding in the day’s heat. Therefore, no dew means it is cloudy and, thus, more likely to rain.

“If a cat washes her face o’er her ear,‘tis a sign the weather will be fine and clear.”

Cat fur can build up static electric charges when it gets very dry. During times of low humidity and fair weather, especially in the winter time when it is very dry, a cat may lick its fur in order to moisten it. Moist fur will shed electric charge and prevent static discharges, which annoy the cat.

“When sounds travel far and wide,A stormy day will betide.”

Sound travels at different speeds through different substances. It travels faster through a solid substance than it does through air, for instance. Sound travels better in air that is heavily laden with moisture than it does in dry air. And air with lots of moisture is air that is likely to rain.

But there are also sayings that are just old wives’ tales and have no scientific merit.

“Onion skins very thinMild winter coming in;Onion skins thick and toughComing winter cold and rough."

Onions can’t generally predict the weather, especially the long-range weather.

And then there is the famous saying about the month of March:

”If March comes in like a lamb, it goes out like a lion; if it comes in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb.”

That saying is meant more as a description of the highly variable March weather than it is a prediction.

And here’s one that seems to tie it all together in one verse. All of the signs in this poem have some scientific validity to them.

“When the sky is red in the morning,And sounds travel far at night;When fish jump high from the water And flies stick tight, and bite;When you can't get salt from your shaker,And your corn gives you extra pain,There's no need to consult an almanac,You just know it's going to rain. “

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