Still and calm waters such at these on Barnum Pond, may accompany either a high or a low pressure system. However the old rhyme, 'Red sky at night, sailor's delight' is generally accepted as a reliable indication of fair weather conditions soon to follow.
It had been a typical summer day in the Adirondack. The blue sky was dotted with tall, fast moving puffy clouds as I fished for bass on a local lake. However, when the sky began to darken and the leaves of a hardwood tree began to reveal their white underbellies, I recognized the signals of an impending rain.
There were threatening clouds on the far horizon, and I could smell rain in the air. My ears began popping with the advancing low air pressure system, and the lake’s surface turned flat and glassy.
I motored down the lake to take shelter before the wind began to kick up. There were a couple of other boats that had already retreated, but many remained out on the lake. Shortly after I got to the dock, the clouds let loose a torrential downpour and boats began to scramble for cover.
Most of the late returnees were totally drenched and they soon provided evidence of just how far removed modern society has become from being able to understand and recognize the natural progression of weather.
“I never even saw it coming,” exclaimed one young man. “Me either,” chimed in another. “That one really snuck up on me. The weather report sure was wrong!”
Summer thunderstorms have a tendency to sneak up on travelers in the Adirondacks, especially while on a lake where the surrounding topography often limits a view of the distant horizon. It happens likewise on the trail, when tall mountains shield the vista.
Despite the numerous natural warning signals that we should heed, travelers commonly fail to recognize the natural signs.
Unfortunately, today’s travelers have become too accustomed to relying on weather forecasters, Doppler Radar Accu-casts. They obtain weather knowledge from a variety of sources, rather than from natural observations.
As a result, modern society has failed to recognize or retain many of the long accepted, weather signals. Many of these natural indicators have been forgotten. Surely, most people have heard about the predictability of the groundhog and his shadow, which is more fable than fact.
However, there are many natural clues to weather that are reliable. Unfortunately, most people do not know what to look for, and others simply don’t know how to observe.
I wonder how many people recognize that dogs and cats will often become nervous and jittery prior to the arrival of foul weather. It is a fact, not a fable. Animals aren’t psychic, they can’t predict the weather, but they are much more sensitive to changes in barometric pressure than humans are. As a result, they have learned how to recognize as low pressure systems are approaching from a long way off.
So do a number of other local critters. On the cusp of an approaching storm, frogs will typically croak louder and longer than usual. Crickets will exhibit the opposite behavior, chirping less often and more quietly.
Low pressure also causes noises to carry further and thus, the notes of a song bird will be sharper and a loon’s laughter will sound louder, and the echoes will travel further in the night air.
Other recognizable signs of an approaching low pressure system will be evident when birds fly lower to the water to feed on the insect hatches that often occur.
Trout will rise more readily, sometimes leaping entirely out of the water to pick off insects that are just hatching. The appearance of flies such as the Blue Wing Olive is usually an indication of an approaching low pressure system.
Bass are also extremely sensitive to changes in barometric pressure, and approaching low pressure fronts provide an ideal opportunity for taking bass with topwater plugs such as Hula-Poppers, Jitterbugs or Chuggers.
Low pressure causes birds to gather on tree branches and telephone wires, or flock together earlier in the day than usual. Conversely, bees and butterflies will mysteriously disappear from the flower beds they typically frequent and ants will build up bigger mounds around their holes, or actually cover the hole entirely.
Cows will lay down in the fields or run around the field with their tails raised high swatting flies before a storm. As bad weather approaches, horses will typically face to the west to face the storm.
Experience has taught me to take notice of such unusual behaviors in wildlife. If birds and beasts are acting weird, there’s often a good reason, especially if such actions are exhibited by a variety of different species.
A few of the other commonly accepted natural indicators include spiders retreating from their webs before a rain and bees staying close to their hives.
Many people claim to have pain in their joints, or suffer ‘a pain in the brain before a rain.’ A coming storm is often presaged by bones that will ache, joints that will throb or tooth aches.
Such whimsical weather rhymes were common in ancient times, and today they are easy to understand. Low pressure systems can have severe affects on the sinus cavities, thus ‘rain on the plain causes pain on the brain.’
Similar rhymes that come from those times would have to include, “When the wind is in the east, it is not a fit day for man or beast.”
“Fish bite least, with wind in the east. But when wind is from the south, it blows the flies into the fish's mouth.”
“When the wind is in the west, there it is the very best.”
“When a ditch or pond affects the nose, look out for rain and stormy blows.” Approaching low pressure systems often keep scents low to the ground, including the musty smell of the autumn woods or the rankness of a bog.
Other long accepted weather rhymes include “If birds fly low, expect rain and a blow” and “If the rooster crows on going to bed, you may rise with a watery head.”
“Trout jump high, when rain is nigh. And a swarm of bees in May, is worth a load of hay.”
“When sheep gather in a huddle, tomorrow will have a puddle” or “Expect the weather to be fair, when crows fly in pairs” and “When ladybugs swarm, expect a day that's warm.”
“When chickens scratch together, there's sure to be foul weather” or “when pigs carry sticks, the clouds will soon play tricks, but when they lay in the mud, there are no fears of a flood.”
Despite the best efforts and infinite intrusions of modern communications, there is simply no way to keep a constant track of approaching weather, especially in the Adirondacks.
It is the wise traveler that will learn to pay attention to the natural signs. Although such signs are not always accurate, or easy to read, they can often make the difference between a ruined day or an easy escape to safe and dry terrain.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.