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Animal Weather Forecasters

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

Animals can clue us into the weather almost as well as the meteorologist on your local tv news station. I’m not talking about the groundhog predicting how many more weeks of winter we will have, but other wild animals who are reacting to the clues of incoming weather changes. Humans through the years have learned to clue into these signs to help them make their own predictions. We’ve even made fun rhymes to help us remember them. So what are these signs and how can we clue into them as well?

Before the era of the weather forecasts and apps on our phones, farmers could read the behaviors of their animals to predict the coming changes in the weather within about the next 24 hours. The phrase, “when sheep gather in a huddle, tomorrow we will have a puddle” comes from the fact that sheep actually tend to huddle together for warmth before incoming rain. This is probably due to the sheep reacting to a cold front that is pushing away the warm air, leading to rain and cooler air.

Cows also give clues to the incoming weather based on what way they are facing when they are grazing. If a cow is grazing with its tail facing the west, then that's a sign of fair weather, but if they graze with their tails facing east, that is a sign of incoming rain. In this case, the cows are reacting to the changes in the wind direction. They always want to keep the wind coming from behind them, so they can smell an incoming predator in their blind spot. Winds from the west and southwest are normal and tend to mean clear mild days, while winds from the east are a sign of a disrupted atmosphere leading to an incoming weather change.

Bird Photos Provided By @birdsofct

Of course the wild animals have tactics to detect incoming weather changes. It has been said that “when birds fly high, the weather will be dry” and when they fly low to the ground, a storm can be on its way. I’ve seen a couple explanations for this phenomenon. First, when the air is dry and calm, there is more upwelling of air thrusting insects higher in the air so the birds are flying higher to eat them. Another explanation is the birds are seeking shelter because of their ability to hear the incoming storm through their ability to hear infrasound.

Sharks have also been seen swimming to deeper waters before a storm as well. It is said they do this because they can feel the atmospheric pressure drop, which is common with low pressure systems that bring on rain. The advantage for the shark is that the deeper waters provide more pressure for them and they are less affected by the turbulent waves near the surface caused by the storm.

So can we rely on animals for our weather forecasts? Probably not if you’re trying to plan an outdoor event in a few days or learn how many more weeks of winter we will have. But if you’re trying to decide if you can leave your windows open for a few hours or overnight, clueing into the animal world may just save you a wet mess to clean up. Next time you see the dark clouds rolling in, pay attention to what the animals are doing around your house. Can you find the signs?


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