Before leaving for a beach vacation, everyone hopes for a rain-free forecast. But before leaving, you may see a report that says: "Thirty to forty percent chance of rain." A euphemism for "We don't have a clue."
Since I can't find my trusty Magic 8 Ball, I'm leaning on my favorite old wives' tales about weather prediction. Usually when I look into a wives' tale-such as how chocolate will give you acne-I'm schooled in the scientific reason why it's false. (Great! I love chocolate.) To my surprise, though, some of my favorite wives' tales about weather have at least a nugget of truth. Many originated with farmers and fishermen whose livelihood-and in some cases, lives-depended on accurate weather prediction. Still, many supposed predictors of weather only tell you what the weather is already doing. I pulled together this list of common weather wives' tales to see which had some truth ... and which we should all ignore.
Cows laying down in their field are supposedly a sign of weather to come. Photo courtesy of Bronwyn8
1. Look to the stars. If you see stars at night, you'll wake up to a sunny day. If you don't see stars, get out the galoshes. Okay, not exactly a brain teaser. If it's cloudy, you won't see stars and that could indicate rain the next day. But don't count on it. Storms can move quickly.
2. Red sky at morning, sailor's take warning; red sky at night, sailor's delight. This is referenced in the Bible and Shakespeare, so it must be true, right? It can be a somewhat accurate predictor if you observe the sky at the right time, such as when the sun is setting. When the sky is red, it suggests there are a lot of dust particles in the air, which means high pressure and stable air coming from the west. Good weather is likely to follow.
3. When leaves show their undersides, be very sure that rain betides. Weather experts say this one is generally true, though it depends on the tree. Poplars, for example, are good weather forecasters. Leaves are reacting to sudden changes in humidity, which soften the leaves' stalks.
4. Animals can sense a storm first, especially dogs. Some animals are more sensitive to changes in pressure. If your dog has a keen sense of hearing, he may detect thunder sooner than you can ... but not by much. Some scientists believe animals may be able to pick up on earthquakes and tsunamis a few seconds sooner than humans. The idea that dogs eat grass before a storm is false. Your dog may be munching grass because he's sick, but more likely he's eating it because it's there.
5. Seabirds, stay out from the land; we won't have good weather while you're on the sand. Yes, seabirds tend to seek land when it's raining, and they are able to detect low-pressure systems. But their behavior won't give you much of a warning. If you see birds gathered on the beach, chances are you're already wet.