Window on Nature
By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
Whether you travel occasionally or live in a recreation vehicle full-time, the weather is your constant companion, and it dictates many of your activities. It could be said that non-travelers have a slight advantage in this regard, since the weather forecasts they receive focus on their specific locale. But we travelers have more fun as we venture into sometimes unknown territory.
One-day weather forecasts for a specific location are correct 75 percent of the time, according to some sources, but as you move from place to place, it would be nice to improve on that number. You can do this by being observant and by understanding more about the subject of weather. A closer look at this phenomenon and an examination of a few of the more accurate weather sayings will help you become your own weather forecaster.
First, the bad news for those who travel only on weekends: in some parts of the country, it really does rain more often on the days you don’t have to work. At least that’s what Dr. David M. Schultz of the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma, discovered when researching the subject.
He found there was a tendency for more wet weekends in areas that “include much of the East Coast, the Southeast, the Great Plains extending from northern Texas to North Dakota, the Intermountain West, and the Pacific Northwest. In contrast, areas with an excess of dry weekend days include the Midwest, the Texas Gulf Coast, the Continental Divide and the High Plains, most of California, Alaska, and Hawaii.”
The good news is that no matter where you live, you can use your own powers of observation to determine what to expect. By preparing for the weather, you can always find something to do as you explore the world around you.
During our years of full-time travel, we towed a red Volkswagen bus behind our motorhome. On top of the bus was a red canoe (yes, that was us you saw) that we used to paddle in lakes and streams throughout the United States. And we could see that canoe through the motorhome’s window before we even got out of bed in the morning. It became an important weather indicator during the summer.
For us, “dew on the canoe” meant it was a day for outdoor activities, and, weekend or not, this indicator was usually right. For dew to form, it has to be cold enough for the temperature to drop to the dew point. In the summer this tends to happen only on nights with no clouds to hold in the warmer air. A lack of clouds usually portends better weather. Unless it’s windy.
With overnight breezes, there is a higher likelihood of unsettled weather, and the moving air will evaporate whatever moisture tried to condense on our canoe. All we had to do was make sure the canoe wasn’t wet from rain.
If you don’t tow a canoe, you can use the grass around your campsite in the same way. Wet grass on a summer morning tends to be accompanied by clear, dry weather. And if the grass isn’t wet, just look up. The height of the clouds can be your next weather indicator.
Both dew and clouds are caused by the amount of moisture in the air, and clouds occur at different heights based on a combination of moisture and temperature. The less moisture in the air, the higher an air column must rise before the water content becomes visible as a cloud. You’ll also get higher clouds with a higher atmospheric pressure. Thus, dry air and high pressure accompany fair weather.
Would you believe that you can predict weather by watching cattle as you drive? This works best in the Northeast, but the saying is “Cows’ tails to the west “” weather is best.” Cows, and probably other large animals that can’t get out of the weather, prefer to graze with their tails to the wind. If all of them are facing east, a breeze is probably blowing from the opposite direction, and in much of North America a west wind tends to bring good weather.
When you spend a lot of time in the outdoors, you can even smell weather changes, and the reason has to do with air pressure. Air pressure is just what it sounds like “” air pressing down. High pressure, and good weather, presses down hard enough to keep some odors close to the ground where you won’t notice them. But low pressure that might occur before a storm releases the scent of swamps, ditches, and other low-lying areas. You literally can smell a storm brewing.
In the same way, you often can see differences in air pressure. Watch smoke from a chimney. If the smoke is falling instead of rising, it may mark the end of good weather. Other creatures notice the difference, too. If the birds are flying closer to the ground, a storm may be in the making.
If all else fails, you can always buy a special weather hat to help in planning your activities for the day. When you first get up in the morning, take your weather hat and toss it out the door of your motorhome. Fix a cup of coffee, and when you’re completely awake, check the weather hat for its prediction.
If the hat is dry, plan for a day of hiking and outdoor exploring. If the hat is wet, find a good book. If the hat is white, it’s time to move south with the rest of the snowbirds.
If the hat has moved, the wind is blowing. Check the wind direction for further information. And if the hat is gone, the wind is blowing really hard. That would probably be a good time to get out your weather radio and see what the professionals have to say.
For more insights about the natural world around us, visit the Christies’ Web site, www.OurWindowOnNature.com. Here you will find more stories and observations about the birds and butterflies, mountains and deserts, and many of the other outdoor wonders the couple has discovered during their travels.