By Patti Ghezzi for DivineCaroline
Weíre leaving for a beach vacation in two days and Iím worried it will rain the whole time. We desperately need this vacation. And we really need some sun.
Hereís what the weather report says: ďThirty to forty percent chance of rain.Ē A euphemism for ďWe donít have a clue.Ē
Since I canít find my trusty Magic 8 Ball, Iím leaning on my favorite old wivesí tales about weather prediction. Usually when I look into a wivesí taleósuch as how chocolate will give you acneóIím schooled in the scientific reason why itís false. (Great! I love chocolate.) To my surprise, though, some of my favorite†wivesí tales about weather have at least a nugget of truth. Many originated with farmers and fishermen whose livelihoodóand in some cases, livesódepended 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 wivesí tales to see which had some truth … and which we should all ignore.
1. Look to the stars. If you see stars at night, youíll wake up to a sunny day. If you donít see stars, get out the galoshes. Okay, not exactly a brain teaser. If itís cloudy, you wonít see stars and that could indicate rain the next day. But donít count on it. Storms can move quickly.
2. Red sky at morning, sailorís take warning; red sky at night, sailorís 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 leavesí 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 Ö 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 heís sick, but more likely heís eating it because itís there.
5. Seabirds, stay out from the land; we wonít have good weather while youíre on the sand. Yes, seabirds tend to seek land when itís raining, and they are able to detect low-pressure systems. But their behavior wonít give you much of a warning. If you see birds gathered on the beach, chances are youíre already wet.
6. If cows in a pasture are lying down, itís going to rain. Some marginally plausible theories for this one include the possibility that cows want to keep a dry spot for themselves by lying on the ground or to preserve their own heat. Or the change in pressure may decrease their appetite, prompting them to sit a spell rather than graze. Or this bit of lore may be as useful as yesterdayís weather report.
7. Ouch! My tooth/my knee/my hand/my foot hurt. Some people swear they can predict rain based on their aches and pains. This could be due to a fall in barometric pressure, which causes blood vessels to dilate slightly, enabling a storm to affect everything from bones and joints to muscles and sinuses. Some doctors, though, are skeptical.
8. Listen to the crickets to check the temperature. To calculate the temperature in Fahrenheit, count a cricketís chirps over fourteen seconds and add fourteen. Exact formulas vary, but this one is endorsed by the†Old Farmerís Almanac. And it pretty much works due to the cricketís metabolism varying based on the weather. Amazing!
9. If a spider spins a web in the morning, you can expect a fair day. If a spider destroys its web, a storm will soon follow. Some say spiders will avoid the middle of their webs when rain is approaching. Again, itís doubtful spiders get enough of a warning to change their behavior in time to predict future weather.
10. If a groundhog sees his shadow on February 2, six more weeks of winter will follow. A Canadian study found a 37 percent accuracy rate using sunshine on February 2 to predict a prolonged winter. Bits of weather-lore were woven together over time to create this enduring and puzzling tradition. I feel sorry for those homely little guys who have to endure the glare of TV cameras once a year when they have no news to report.
Weather folklore, it turns out, is about as helpful as the meteorologists who tell me it may óor may notórain on my vacation. Because Iím an optimist, Iíll look to the signs that point to sunny, warm weather for our vacation and ignore the others. But Iíll be watching dogs, cows, and spiders closely Ö just in case.