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Learn to read Nature’s signs that bad weather is coming

August 1, 2009
By Joe Hackett

I recently experienced an excellent example of how far removed modern society has become from understanding nature's processes. It happened while we were fishing the St. Regis lakes last week, as the sky turned dark and the leaves of the hardwoods showed their white undersides.

From many years of observation, I immediately recognized the signs of an impending rain. I could see rain falling in the distance on the far horizon and I could smell it in the air. As the winds kicked up, I quickly motored down the lake and took shelter near the landing.

When the clouds let loose in a torrential downpour, a number of boats pulled in over the next few minutes.

"Never saw it coming," explained one young man."Me either," said another. "That one sure snuck up on me. The weather report sure was wrong!"

Storms certainly can sneak up on you in the Adirondacks, especially in the summer. And especially on the lakes where the surrounding topography limits the view of the horizon or when tall mountains shield the vista.

However, there are many natural warnings to heed that signal the potential for bad weather.Too often, we ignore these natural methods and rely on forecasts, Doppler radar or News Channel 5 Accu casts.

As a result, many of the long accepted natural weather signals have long since been forgotten. Sure, we all know about the groundhog and his shadow; but how many know that dogs and cats become nervous and jittery prior to the arrival of foul weather.

They aren't psychic and few of these animals catch the local weather report; but they are much more sensitive to barometric changes, they can feel a low pressure system coming a long way off.

So are a number of other critters. On the cusp of an approaching storm, frogs will typically croak louder and longer than usual. Crickets will exhibit the opposite behavior.

Birds will fly lower to the ground and gather on tree branches and telephone wires or flock together earlier in the day than usual.

Cows will lay down in the fields to feed or run around the field with their tails raised high swatting flies before a storm.

Bees and butterflies will mysteriously disappear from the flower beds they typically frequent and ants will build up bigger mounds around their holes, or actually cover the hole entirely.

Fish will rise more readily, sometimes leaping completely out of the water to pick off insects that are just hatching out. The appearance of Blue Wing Olives is always a clue to a fast moving low pressure system.

When Thailand suffered a devastating tsunami a few years ago, many experts were stunned by how few wild animals were lost.

Sri Lankan wildlife officials reported that they found no dead wild animals, including elephants. A photographer also reported seeing no animal corpses as he flew over a nearby wildlife reserve, only active wildlife.

It is an amazing fact considering that in some cases, the flood waters traveled up to two miles inland. Theories suggest that a sixth sense alerted wildlife to the tsunami in time for them to reach higher ground and safer land.

Their warnings could have come from something as easy as their keen hearing, possibly by feeling the wave approaching while it was still far enough off to allow an escape.

The animals may even be able to feel the vibrations of the ground, alerting them of approaching danger.

On a fishing trip back in the 1980's, I remember seeing raccoons scrambling along the shoreline of a small pond in the broad daylight. We were on Lydia Pond in the St. Regis Canoe Area. We observed many other animals in an agitated state, including rabbits and whitetail deer, as the pond grew eerily still.

As flocks of birds took flight and their distress calls became quite evident. The fishing, which had been quite productive all morning, suddenly shut off as if someone had thrown a switch.

Rowing the guideboat toward the nearest carry, the waters remained uncommonly still - not a whisper or a ripple. Then, the waters began to boil. At first, it felt like the pond was bubbling, we could feel the vibrations through the hull of the boat.

While it was difficult to discern what was coming, the birds, fish and other animals certainly had an idea. They were on the move and making a lot of noise.

When we returned to town later in the week, we learned that the commotion was actually an earthquake; and at 5.1 on the Richter scale, it was a fairly significant one for the Adirondacks. The quake's epicenter was located near Derrick, barely a mile or so west of the pond we were fishing.

The experience taught me to take notice of unusual behaviors in wildlife. If they are acting weird, there's often a reason; especially if such actions are exhibited by many different species.

Here are a few of the other accepted natural indicators. Spiders will leave their webs when it rains and bees won't leave their hives. Seagulls will come inland. Human beings claim to have pain in their joints or stuffed up noses before it rains.

When the wind is in the east, it's not a fit day for man or beast. Fish bite least, with wind in the east. But when wind is from the south, it blows the flies into the fish's mouth. When the wind is in the west, there it is the very best.

When a ditch or pond affect the nose, look out for rain and stormy blows. An approaching low pressure system will keep scents low to the ground, such as the musty smell of the woods or the rankness of a bog.

A coming storm is presaged by bones that will ache, joints that will throb or tooth aches.

A wise traveler pays attention to the natural signs. While these signs are always correct or easy to read, they can sometimes make the difference between a ruined day or an easy escape to safe and dry shelter.



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