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Forecasting with Nature

Weather impacts everyone, and it would benefit most people to be able to forecast the weather ahead of time. Luckily, nature is filled with many clues that can predict upcoming changes in the weather. The position of a rainbow in the sky can tell you if a storm is coming or going, behaviors of clouds can indicate upcoming changes in the weather, insects can reveal the temperature, and even plants can prepare for upcoming changes in the weather. Knowing these signs can be the difference between a wet and dry ending to your hike. So how can we use nature to forecast? Let’s get into it!

Rainbows are the classic symbol of the ending of a storm when the sky clears and the sun shines again. But a rainbow can also be the sign of rain to come. A rainbow always reveals itself opposite in the sky from the sun. This is because it is formed by the sun hitting suspended water droplets in the air at just the right angle to split visible light into its separate colors, which is then reflected back to our eyes. Because of this relationship with the sun, rainbows tend to form in the western sky in the mornings and in the eastern sky in the evenings. If you know what direction the prevailing winds in your area usually come from, a rainbow can tell you whether rain has come or gone. For example, in my area of the world the winds come from the west, so if I see a rainbow in the morning in the western part of the sky, that means there is moisture in the atmosphere in that direction that is headed my way, but if it is in the eastern part of the sky in the evening, then the storm has already come and gone. Although usually the wet ground will reveal that as well.

Many variables contribute to the production of rain including humidity levels and atmospheric stability. Scientists use high tech machines to measure all this, but the clouds reveal these secrets in the sky as well. The presence of clouds usually indicates some level of instability and humidity, but generally speaking, the higher the clouds in the atmosphere, the more stable it is, and vice versa. So if you see the clouds start to darken and lower closer to the ground, then this can reveal rain is on its way. More specifically, cumulus clouds are an excellent indicator of local weather because they are made locally. They are formed from rapidly rising air which is a sign of an unstable environment, and as they grow and get lower to the ground, rain becomes more likely. Clouds are complex parts of nature that are impacted by many variables and reveal a lot about what's going on above and around us.

TF= Temperature in Farenheit Tc = Temperature in Celsius

N15 = number of chirps in 15 seconds N60 = number of chirps in 60 seconds

Insects are cold blooded so their body temperature is the same as the environment. Crickets who make their sounds by rubbing their wings or legs together will chirp at a steady rhythm that correlates with the temperature. So the higher the temperature the more rapid the cricket chirps. Crickets with a steady chip can be used to estimate the temperature by using Dolbear’s Law, which is an equation where the temperature (in F) equals the number of chirps in 15 seconds + 40. The equation for celsius is a little more complicated (see below). This may not give you the exact temperature but it should be pretty close. A drop in air temperature is usually a good sign of upcoming rain so a reduction in cricket chirps can be a good sign of potential changes in the weather.

Plants also respond to the changes in the atmosphere. Flowering plants like the dandelion close their petals when the humidity rises just before rain. They do this so their petals can protect the important pollen and nectar that would be washed away or diluted by the rain. This process also happens at night because as the air temperature cools, the humidity rises. This protects the nectar from being diluted by the morning dew. So using this pattern as a predictor of rain is more accurate during the day, when in stable conditions, the flower should be open and inviting to pollinators.

Being prepared for changes in the weather is important for every nature and outdoor enthusiast. Today’s technology provides details and precise information about what to expect for the day’s weather, but being aware of subtle changes and clues in nature that indicate upcoming changes in the weather can enrich our experience and relationship with the outdoors. The next time you know it is going to rain, see if you can find some of these clues. That way when you notice them in the future on a day where you may not have checked the weather, you can recognize the signs and prepare for the changes in the weather.


“The Secret World of Weather” by Tristan Gooley

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