Before I get started today, I want you to know there will be a big announcement in this column in two weeks on June 1. It is good news that you won’t want to miss.
I believe it was Mark Twain quoting Charles Dudley Warner who said that “everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it.” I am no exception, but I hope to give you a little information so that you will fit into the first group of people that Benjamin Franklin was talking about when he said, ‘some people are weatherwise, and some are otherwise.’
Nowadays most of us consult an app on our phone if we want to know what the weather is or will be like tomorrow. Many of us have more than one weather app to consult. My preferred weather app is called Windy. Unfortunately, it seems that the more we use our phones and apps, the less we know about the actual weather outside our windows.
Can you remember the cloud type, high and low temperatures, wind direction and whether the barometer was rising or falling on any day last week? Or even for yesterday? Probably not. But it is the knowledge of just a few things like these that will help us understand today’s weather and help predict the weather for tomorrow. Knowing what’s happening with the weather will help us to be better gardeners, better birdwatchers, and can even be fun all by itself.
The more often you observe your local weather the more you can learn. As we all know, weather changes can occur anytime during the same day. What most people do not realize is that the weather often follows known patterns. These weather patterns give us our region’s climate. There are large overall patterns that change with the seasons and there are smaller patterns that occur within the seasons.
The first thing to learn about weather is the 10 basic cloud types. Different cloud types can herald weather changes a day or two in advance. There are books, posters and apps that can help.
The second thing to learn about is air pressure. Sunlight at the equator warms air so much that it becomes lighter and it floats higher into the atmosphere. Huge bubbles of warm air move away from the equator toward the poles. As this air gets cold it begins to sink back toward the earth. As it does so it becomes a thick, heavy glob of air many miles in diameter and several miles thick. This thick layer of air puts more pressure on things close to the ground, so it is called a high-pressure system. As the air flows away from the center of the high pressure it spins downhill in a clockwise manner. The air in the low-pressure area where the air is rising revolves in a counterclockwise direction. Birds often migrate with the help of these winds.
The air within a pressure system is similar in humidity, density and temperature. When two areas of different pressure meet, the air does not want to mix. Warm, moist low-pressure areas will float over the cold high-pressure areas like oil floating over water. As the moist air is lifted higher into the atmosphere it becomes colder and it cannot hold its moisture, so it causes rain. The boundary between the two masses of air is called a front.
Wind moves from high pressure to low pressure. A barometer measures air pressure. Knowing whether the pressure is rising or falling is one of the most helpful tools in predicting weather. Falling barometer readings often mean the weather will turn bad and rising barometers mean good weather.
Fortunately, for us amateur weather forecasters, weather apps and instruments that measure the weather do not cause the weather. My favorite Mark Twain saying is: “Cold! If the thermometer had been an inch longer, we’d all have frozen to death!”