Predicting the weather
In my years of living on the ranch, working out in the hills in my younger days, I was taught to watch what happened around me. I learned the animals, both wild and our domesticated cattle, horses and dogs, will tell me a lot about what is happening. Often, and maybe more importantly, they will also let me know what is coming in the near future.
As an example, in early January, I mentioned to my readers I’d noticed a gopher mound, indicating the possibility the activity was a too-early harbinger of spring. During the deep winter months, gophers will dig tunnels, but don’t seem to put up the all-too-familiar large mounds of dirt dug from beneath the surface. They dig to the surface, leaving no mound evidence of the excavation, only a small hole in the grass. It appears this is simply a ventilation hole.
Evidently, the observation of a mound in my yard was a simple anomaly and not really indicative of too-early in the spring creature activity. I have not seen any further activity in the weeks since then, so my concerns were evidently unfounded. In fact, I discovered a no-mound-visible ventilation hole two or three days ago. So, they are still in the ventilation mode.
In the last week of January, I noticed another interesting fact. The worms are very active in my lawn. Even though the grass is still in winter dormancy, along the north edge of my yard I see small balls of worm castings. These are occurring in sufficient quantity to be more than an isolated incident.
Not being an expert on this sort of thing, it would seem this is evidence of the worms moving around, digging their way through the soil, depositing the remnants on the surface. During the winter I don’t see the castings on the surface, so I suspect the worms are telling us spring is not far away.
As a young man growing up on the ranch, where we were entirely dependent upon rain and warm weather to bring on the grass so we could stop feeding expensive hay, I was shown many different clues in nature. These are often simple things, and sometimes they do allow us to foresee weather events.
One morning during the past weekend, Sunday, I think, I was up early feeding the old mare. It was just prior to daylight, and the moon was still high in the western sky. Glancing up I noticed a ring around the moon. I quickly counted the number of stars inside the ring (there were three). Dad had always said the number of stars would tell the number of days until it rained. Of course, he also said it wasn’t a very reliable method of prognostication. But, that never kept us from exchanging observations.
The thin overcast, with the moon shining through, creates the appearance of a ring. The height of the overcast layer above the ground determines the size of the ring, and the exact moment when the ring is observed determines how many stars are visible inside.
Interestingly though, the next predicted storm is due to pass through the Valley sometime on Thursday, meaning the three stars had in fact predicted within one day when it might rain. Well, no, not exactly. A ring appeared because there was a high thin layer of clouds with the light of the moon shining through. And, the size of the ring was determined by the altitude of the clouds, not the proximity of the next storm.
Conversely, two or three days ahead of a storm there are often high thin layers of clouds preceding the main frontal line. The altitude of those thin clouds, as well as the density of the thin cloud layer, will determine the number of starts visible, having absolutely nothing to do with meteorology.
Except — two or three days ahead of a storm there is often a thin layer of ice crystals. The very nature of the thin layer of clouds restricts the amount of visibility through it. These simple facts of physics will determine how many stars are visible in the ring around the moon, not the number of days before it rains. Or do they?
In the fall, often just prior to a good wet rain, usually the first good soaking of the season, it was not unusual to see big black tarantula spiders, often crossing a road. The theory was that they were moving to higher ground, where their trap-door nest would not be flooded. The tarantula makes a nest, attaching a flat door over the hole, hinging the door with spider web material. When a small bug wandered too near the trap-door, the tarantula would pop out, capture the unsuspecting bug, quickly dragging it back into the hidden lair for dinner.
Were the usually hidden tarantula really moving because they had felt a storm was coming which might flood their home? I’m sure nobody really knows for sure. But, since a tarantula on the move often does precede a storm, there is certainly a bit of truth in the prediction.
And, most importantly, the observation of the actions of a wild creature hold a whole lot more reliability than a simple fact of physics. And, it might be noted with a sly grin, the science of meteorology is based on physics.
Brent Gill lives in Springville. His “Daunt to Dillonwood” column appears regularly in The Porterville Recorder. If you enjoyed this column, follow my blog at: http://foothillwriter.blogspot.com.