Gerald Almy: Weather insights for outdoorsmen

Gerald Almy

Leaden clouds blanketed the sky and the air had a heavy, raw feel as we pushed off into the emerald green river, but at least temperatures hovered above freezing. We were embarking on a 10-mile float trip for ducks and smallmouth bass. The last thing we needed was ice or snow to contend with.

No sooner had we left the launching spot and paddled our first strokes than raindrops began splattering on the river. There was no turning back. The current was too strong, and we’d been dropped off, so the only vehicle available was ten miles downstream.

Reaching into our packs, we gingerly pulled on rain jackets and pants before loading our shotguns, rigging our fishing tackle, and continuing to stroke downstream.

Sometimes you can’t change plans for hunting or fishing adventures because of the weather. Once we left the put-in boat ramp, that outing had to go on in spite of the weather.

On more flexible trips, you can often change plans if you know the weather is likely to be bad. Even if you can’t postpone the outing, knowing what the weather will do can at least help you plan for it and pack appropriately. And often clues in the weather will help you predict how active game will be and how it might affect their movement patterns.

One of the best ways to enhance your ability to predict the weather is by learning to read signs in nature including clouds, wind speed and direction, sunsets, animal and insect behavior, and even how the air “feels.”

Barometric pressure is often a good indicator of change. If the air has a heavy, burdensome feel to it and you’re lethargic, the barometer is likely falling or already low. A storm front may be approaching.

On the other hand, if you feel energetic, the air is crisp and seems light, chances are a high pressure system is influencing the weather. The barometer is likely high or rising. Optimum conditions are on tap — both for you and for the quarry you’re hunting or species of fish you are trying to catch.

A study of record books conducted by the Boone & Crockett Club showed that more than 90 percent of record book whitetails were taken when there was no rain or snow falling, typically with a high or rising barometer.

Insects also respond to air pressure. Ants are most busy and move faster when the barometer is high. They are lazy and sluggish when it’s low. Watch ants crawling on the tree in your stand to see when bucks are likely to be moving.

Game animals can tell when a winter storm is approaching well before it arrives. They will eat heavily 12 to 24 hours before it begins because they know food will be hard to find once snow blankets the ground.

Knowing this, you can plan to be in the woods half a day before the storm hits, when peak movement occurs. If you wait too late and go out just before the front arrives, game will likely be already bedded down, seeking shelter before the storm sets in.

Also plan on getting back into the woods the minute the storm breaks. The animals will be hungry from being holed up and anxious to get out and feed.

Swallows and martins tend to fly lower to the ground when a storm is approaching. Spiders often abandon their webs and move onto tent or camp walls when bad weather is coming.

Some plants such as clover and tulips close up when rain is near. Keep an eye peeled for these signs to predict the coming weather.

Simple things like smoke going down from a chimney instead of rising are indicative of a low pressure system and possible rain. A halo around the moon or sun is actually light shining through cirrostratus clouds, often signaling the approach of a warm front and possible precipitation.

Signs don’t just warn of bad weather, though. They can also tell us when fair weather is on tap. If the night was clear and there’s frost, heavy dew or fog in the morning, the day will likely be clear.

If you hear locusts singing, it means dry weather lies ahead. Both are good signs that indicate you should get out into the woods or onto a lake with gun or fishing rod in hand.

The saying “red sky at night, sailor’s delight,” also has some truth to it. A red or pink sunset implies fair weather because skies are clear and most weather systems approach from the west. The color is caused by dust in the dry, clear air.

Next Week: How wind and clouds influence fish and wildlife behavior.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.