Gerald Almy: Use clouds, wind to predict weather

Gerald Almy

Both clouds and winds can be important tools for the sportsman in predicting the weather and how it will influence your chances of catching fish or harvesting game.

Use wind speed, direction and consistency to help you determine how a day’s weather is likely to unfold. If the wind velocity suddenly picks up with swirling, gusty breezes, a front is approaching. A steady wind–moderate or light–is usually a sign of stable weather.

Wind direction is also important for predicting the weather. East and northeast winds are the counterclockwise currents of a low pressure center and often indicate stormy weather ahead.

South winds often mean warm humid conditions. They can bring rain, too, though often of a gentler variety than east winds. West and northwest winds are often harbingers of good weather–cool and crisp with a high barometer.

Paying attention to clouds is one of the best ways to forecast the weather. But what exactly is a cloud? A cloud is simply millions of particles of water or ice created when air is cooled and condensation occurs.

The darker the cloud, the more likely rain is coming. The lower the clouds are in the sky and the more there are, the greater the chances of rain or snow.

Clouds are divided into four main groups and a variety of sub-types made up of combinations of the major categories. They are classified according to shape, height and type of weather they carry.

Learn these seven major types and the weather they will likely bring and you’ll be better prepared for planning and packing for your next outdoor adventure.

Stratus: Layered clouds that form in elongated bands in the sky are called stratus, from the Latin word stratum or “spread.” These relatively featureless clouds are found between the ground and 6,000 feet.

They can spread hundreds of miles across the sky. Stratus can bring overcast weather, drizzle, rain or snow.

Cumulus: “Heap” the Latin meaning, describes well these billowy, cotton-candy looking formations. They are low-level clouds, made primarily of water drops.

When scattered and white they signal fair weather. When they develop more vertically and darken they turn into cumulonimbus and threaten foul, possibly even violent weather.

Cirrocumulus: This is what people mean when they speak of a “mackerel sky.” The cloud formation has a wavy pattern like the markings on the side of the mackerel fish. They indicate precipitation moving in within a day or two.

Nimbus: Definition: rain. Pack your foul weather gear if you see these or the related nimbostratus clouds. They mean a front is approaching, fast.

Cumulonimbus: These are more dramatic looking than fair weather cumulus clouds. They rise up higher vertically and can signal a thunderstorm ahead. In cold weather or high elevations they could bring hail or snow.

Cirrus: These are the highest clouds. They drift 20,000 feet or higher in the sky. They are thin and wispy, delicate looking. They tend to come during fair weather and are fast-moving–up to 100 miles per hour.

Cirrostratus: When cirrus clouds become elongated and turn into cirrostratus, it’s often the first sign of a front moving in. They can appear as a milky layer or at times form a halo around the moon or sun as light rays bend when they hit the cloud’s ice crystals.

These clouds are valuable for planning because it may be a day or two before the front actually arrives. They may forecast rain or possibly just overcast weather.

Next time you plan a camping, hiking, hunting, or fishing trip, note the wind patterns and check the sky first. You may want to delay it a day or two, or at least pack your foul weather gear!

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