When I was little, my grandmother could always predict a coming storm hours before we saw the weather alert on television or heard the announcement on a radio. Her secret was in the sky. She learned to study the clouds and she could tell us great accuracy whether it would rain, snow, or storm. If we were planning an afternoon of fishing, my brother and I would always call grandma first to get the weather forecast. Her skills in cloud watching were more than just a passing amusement. They taught me a lot about preparedness and when I grew older, I asked her to teach me the art of weather forecasting by staring at the sky.
Back before we had all of the weather technology we have now, our forefathers depended on the sky to tell them to predict the weather. It’s no different today. If you were in a survival situation, and had no access to a local weather forecast, or current meteorological tools, you could indeed predict if rain were on the way, or a storm was imminent just by watching the sky. Clouds can tell us all kinds of things about what weather event is headed our way. Here is a quick start guide to cloud watching to help you predict the weather using the old-fashioned forecasting methods.
First, it’s important to know that clouds are made up in the troposphere, which is where weather is formed. The clouds are all formed differently, which is why there are many different types of clouds. Clouds are given different names based off of how they appear, and the type of clouds you see are often a clue to what type of weather is coming. Today’s weather forecasters use cloud cover and patterns, along with atmospheric conditions to try and make accurate predictions for approaching weather. Here are some common types of clouds and what they mean for future weather.
These wispy, high-level clouds will usually indicate fair weather. Often an increase of these clouds means a warm front is on the way.
These can often look like schools of mackerel, or ripples in appearance. Interestingly, in cooler climates, these mean a cold, fair forecast, but in the tropics, it might mean a hurricane is coming. Watch for the appearance of these clouds and then note the weather patterns to follow to get a better idea of what kind of events they tend to proceed in your area.
These white, puffy clouds can also be called a mackerel sky. They are similar to cirro-cumulus, but if they are out when it’s hot and humid, it usually means a pop up thunderstorm may not be far behind. They are good warning that you should start to find shelter.
These clouds are often known as “thunderheads” as they usually mean stormy weather is on the way. They can have an anvil shape at the top, and will sometimes be lighter colored up top, but have darker bottoms. They are usually a pretty good indicator that strong weather is on the way. In winter months, these clouds often precede a severe snowstorm, but in other times of the year, it could mean heavy rain, thunderstorms, or even tornadoes. Tornadoes often start out as thunderheads.
These are fine, fog-type clouds that make the whole sky look dreary grey. They usually don’t produce much in the way of weather, even though they seem depressing. When you see these clouds, you are most often expecting a light drizzle or misty type snow.
If you can recognize these basic cloud types, you’re on your way to using clouds to predict the weather. There are other types of clouds not mentioned here, but most of them stem from these five. Practice charting what kinds of clouds you see followed by the weather you see within 12-48 hours. This is a survival skill that you can teach yourself with a little practice. It’s also a fun family activity to see who can spot which types of clouds and who becomes better at weather predictions.
Try using a notebook to start a family weather journal. Write down the clouds you observe and enlist the kids to draw pictures. Then record the weather that follows and look for trends. Before you know it, you may find yourself turning your eyes to the sky to look at the weather forecast before reaching for the television remote or checking a weather app on your phone. Head outside and check the sky today! This is a fun survival skill that the whole family can learn together.