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As the old saying goes ...

September 18, 2010
By Joe Hackett, Enterprise Outdoors Columnist

If questioned, most people can usually remember at least one old weather proverb. Often, it's an old adage about a woodchuck seeing it's shadow. Yet, most people can't remember what the shadow will foretell, because we simply don't need to anymore. Most weather proverbs were developed through natural observation.

These proverbs come from a time when tools like Accu-Weather, Intellicast and the Doppler Radar would have been considered witches brew. Modern day society has forgotten how to recognize nature's clues. We no longer need to know because, for the most part, our survival is no longer based what the weather will bring.

Although natural forecasting methods can be quite accurate in the short range, proverbs meant to predict weather in the long range have little meteorological basis and even less accuracy.

Article Photos

Heavy lake fog, common with the recent cool mornings, has made it difficult for anglers to get on the water early.
(Photo — Joe Hackett)

Predictions for weather were developed on a trial and error basis.When a rainstorm arrived after tree leaves were turned upside down, people made the correlation.

Although one action followed the other, it took a while for people to recognize nature's indicators. They realized that the leaves didn't make rain. The result is "weatherlore" which is based on observations of the environment and the effects the weather changes have on insects, animals, birds and people.

In recent times, humans worry more about their cell phone signal than nature's signal. Without reception, how can you view Doppler Radar on your iPhone?

I've often wondered how the birds, plants, trees and animals do it. What signals are they picking up that most humans can't discern? Wild creatures are sensitive to changes in air pressure that humans can't detect.

However, we all know a few folks who can. They complain about a drop in barometric pressure that affects their joints, teeth, bones, corns or bunions. One person I know claims her ears pop with the slightest change and she's usually accurate.

Since birds and animals often detect changes that humans can't detect, it is important to observe their behavior. It also helps to know something about those behaviors.

While swallows flying low may be an indication that the air pressure is dropping, it may also indicate that a fly hatch is in progress and the wind is keeping bugs low to the ground.

If birds are noisy in the morning, it may not actually be a signal of fair weather. Their calls may simply be alarming others of the presence of predators.

"Expect the weather to be fair, when crows fly in pairs." The proverb may be true most of the time, however during the breeding season, crows will pair up regardless of the weather.

It's true that many animals will react to changes in wind and air pressure by leaving the higher elevations to seek shelter below. Deer will retreat to the swamps, seeking cover to shield them. Rabbits will also be on the move.

Nearly all species will feed heavily prior to a storm. As the saying goes, "When chickens scratch together, there's sure to be foul weather."

Bass anglers also recognize this fact. They know that fish will be feeding heavily prior to an approaching storm, and they'll fish hard to the moment the rain begins to fall. Other sportsmen should pay attention, as such observations can easily turn the odds in their favor.

Hunters take note, "A cow with its tail to the west, makes weather the best. A cow with its tail to the east, makes weather the least."

Generally, wind from the east brings rain, while wind from the west bring fair skies. The adage is based on the observation that most animals graze with their backsides to the wind by natural instinct.

But how do animals know? They don't.

Cows and other grazing species pick up scents in the wind. They face the opposite direction so they can see predators approaching from the downwind direction.

Whitetail deer will exhibit the same behavior, so while most hunters tend to hunt into the wind to control their own scent distribution, they should realize this would often bring them eyeball to eyeball to their prey.

Behavioral patterns are the same for most grazing animals. If a drop in air pressure affects the digestive system of cows and causes them to lie down, the same is true with deer or elk.

Wind, rain, air pressure and humidity have effects on animal behavior. The higher the humidity, the better sound travels, which is why a loon's haunting call can occasionally be heard at a great distance. The loon's call isn't any louder that usual, it simply carries farther because of the humidity.

"When forests murmur and mountains roar, close your windows and shut the door."

This adage explains that when sound travels long distances, rain can be expected soon.

The basis for the saying, "Rain is on the way when trees expose the underside of their leaves," was based on observation, but the rain doesn't actually turn the leaves upside down. As a tree grows, its leaves fall into a pattern. The leaves develop a "part" as a result of being "naturally combed" by the prevailing winds.

Storms, which are typically ushered in by non-prevailing winds, will force these leaves in the opposite direction and expose the underside in much the same manner that a stiff wind will reveal a man's comb-over.

Another old adage proclaims, "When swamps and bogs affect the nose, look for rain and stormy blows."

It's easy to understand the reason. Winds blow in storms, which bring in high humidity and low air pressure. High humidity and low air pressure keep the scent low to the ground, where it is dispersed by the accompanying winds.

 
 

 

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