Sunday, September 26, 2010

How to Predict the Weather

Red sky at morning,
Sailors take warning.
Red sky at night,
Sailors delight.

New York City woke up to a strawberry-and-peach-stained sunrise today; the moment I saw it, the "red sky at morning" rhyme bubbled up from my memory. When I was very young and the launch of the first weather satellite, Vanguard 2, was still a few years away, rhymes like this helped people predict the weather.

Well, we did have Tex Antoine and his sidekick Uncle Wethbee, but their forecasts were not very scientific — possibly because Tex was not a scientist and Uncle Wethbee was made of wood.

The first actual meteorologist I remember seeing on New York television was Dr. Frank Field, who started making waves in 1958 with predictions that were not terribly reliable but at least sounded scientific.

So how would you know whether to invite friends over for that cookout tomorrow night? You'd look to the skies and to the animals and insects around you.

My parents were full of helpful hints. For example, did you know that when cows lie down in the grass during the day, rain is coming? Living in the New York City suburbs, we didn't see cows very often, but when we did — I was ready. By the time I was four, I had developed a still-unverified theory of my own: If the sky is completely cloudless, it will probably rain the next day.

For longer-range forecasts, we turned to The Old Farmer's Almanac, which has been predicting the weather since 1792 and claims 80% accuracy. In this video, the Almanac's current editor reveals the publication's secret forecasting formula.

So look at this sky. Who are you going to believe? The Almanac or the weather widget?

Update: Contrary to the weather widget's prediction, it began raining on Sunday afternoon. Folk wisdom for the win!

The Almanac website has a list of tips to help you forecast the old-fashioned way — by studying things like crickets, wooly bear caterpillars and persimmon seeds. It also offers an array of helpful aphorisms to guide both long- and short-term weather planning. However, to make the best use of them, you'll have to spend more time on a farm.

When cattle lie down in the pasture, it indicates early rain

When rabbits are fat in October and November, expect a long, cold winter.

When the swallow's nest is high, the summer is very dry. When the swallow buildeth low, you can safely reap and sow.

The louder the frogs, the more the rain.

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