When it comes to knowing whether a storm is approaching or not, there are some pretty common, and reliable indications that you can look for.
Many people are familiar with some of them. However, they may not know what the full range of indications are and these are what tell you whether a storm is coming or not. And more importantly, how bad the storm is likely to be.
- 1 Understanding the Basics of Meteorology
- 2 Common Indications of Bad Weather
- 3 How to Survive Being Caught in a Storm
The more information that you can gather about an approaching storm the better.
This will allow you to make your forecast much easier and a lot more accurate. Thus, you will be to make preparations and ensure that you are not caught in a storm unaware.
However, predicting the weather is not as straightforward as it seems. As you may have noticed, even weather experts like meteorologists employed by television stations and the National Weather Service do not always get the forecast right.
Nevertheless, in the field, the closer a storm gets the easier it is to predict.
But we don’t want that storm to get too close, right?
Understanding the Basics of Meteorology
Meteorologists are weather scientists. Although you can get a meteorology degree in four years as a bachelor of science, most meteorologists go on to earn masters degrees or even doctorates in their chosen field. Predicting the weather is an important responsibility, and requires a great deal of education and training to get it right. There is no way to cover everything that a meteorologist knows in a single article, but it can be helpful in understanding the indications of bad weather to have some basic meteorological knowledge.
The first thing the need to understand is that we basically live at the bottom of an invisible ocean. That’s because the layers of the Earth’s atmosphere behaves very much like a liquid. The atmosphere is made up of nitrogen, oxygen, Argonne and some trace gases. These gasses will change forms and behave in predictable patterns as it moves around the earth. The atmosphere is always trying to stabilize, where temperature would be the same everywhere on earth. However, due to several dozen factors, this is simply not possible.
The atmosphere is composed of smaller air masses. An air mass is a section of the atmosphere that has basically the same temperature and moisture content. There are four types of air masses including continental air masses which start over land, maritime air masses which start over water, tropical air masses which have a higher temperature than other types of air masses and polar air masses which are colder than other types of air masses.
Air masses move across the globe and sometimes collide. When these air masses collide, it creates what is called the front. The type of front that is created depends upon what the air masses were and how they interact. Most weather occurs near fronts, and understanding fronts will help you to understand the coming signs of the storm.
What are Fronts?
You have probably heard the terms warm front and cold front during the weather report of your local news. Cold fronts happen when cold air collides with a mass of warm air. However, warm fronts happen the exact same way. The difference is that one mass will be moving while the other will not. If it is the colder mass of air that is moving, it creates a cold front. If it is the warmer mass of air that is moving, then it creates a warm front. The cold front will lift the warmer mass of air high enough to start condensing and forming clouds. This may eventually lead to rain and storms.
Another type of front that you may have heard of is the stationary front. A stationary front happens when a warm and a cold mass of air meet but neither has enough force to move the other and create a warm or a cold front. Instead, a stationary front is formed. While a stationary front will almost never produce severe storms, they can remain in the same area for a long time and cause rain or snow over that area. Many major snowstorms and rains that cause flooding have been due to a stationary front stalling out over an area.
What are Pressure Systems?
Pressure systems are also part of understanding how weather works in predicting when a storm is coming. The science behind pressure systems is relatively complex, but what you need to know is that different pressure systems can cause certain storm behaviors. Air pressure is a measurement of how heavy the atmosphere is above a certain point. Heavier atmosphere contains more air molecules and temperature can have an effect on a massive air by expanding your contracting. As an air mass becomes warmer, it begins to rise and expand. A cooling air mass contracts and becomes denser. These factors determine whether or not a mass rises or falls and creates either a higher low pressure system.
These are just the major systems that can affect whether or not a storm forms and what the weather, temperature and humidity will be like. They are known as large-scale forces. There are also small-scale forces that can affect the forecast as well.
Common Indications of Bad Weather
There are some common indications of bad weather that we will be looking at below. While not all of these are completely reliable when it comes to an approaching storm, many of them are, and people have been using these methods to predict storms long before there was such a thing as the local weather forecasts on the television or checking the weather app on your phone. Many of these are not that reliable until storm gets close, because there are so many different factors that go into predicting a storm. However, if you don’t have the local forecast handy, they can definitely be useful.
The Direction of Approach
The first thing you should understand about storms is the direction of approach. Because air masses move in all different directions; weather can move just about any direction that it wants. However, the way that weather typically moves depends upon which part of the world you live in.
In the United States, weather most often moves west to east because that’s the direction of the jet stream. The jet stream carries weather systems along with it. However, there are storms that defy this jet stream and move in other directions. It depends upon many different factors.
For the most part though, if you see a system to the east of you, then it is likely that the storm has already passed over you and will not be coming back. Conversely, if there is a storm system forming to the west of you, and you live in the United States, the odds are pretty good that it is going to eventually pass over your area; how strong the storm will be once it gets to your area is a different question altogether. You also may be wondering why the jet stream blows west to east, and the answer is complicated but it has to do with the way that the equator gets more heat from the sun in the poles and the rotation of the earth.
Observing animal behavior is one of the ways in which you can determine whether a storm is going to be rolling in in a few hours. Animals can also sometimes tell when it is going to snow a large amount of snow for the first time in a season. Scientists are not sure why animals are able to detect storms, but there is no doubt that some of them can. Some researchers believe that they can hear him for sonic sounds from long distances because some thunderstorms and hurricanes produce those sounds but other researchers believe that it is the change in error and water pressure that the animals are able to detect.
Whatever the reason, there are certain animals that respond when a storm is coming, and the worst the storm is apt to be the more the animals will respond. If you live in a rural area and you have horses, then you have likely noticed courses becoming restless before a storm. Most people do not own horses, but for those that do this can be one of the major indicators. However, even your dog may be able to tell when a storm is on its way. Some dogs give off signals of anxiety when a storm is approaching. If you know your dog’s behavior well, then you may be able to rely on their sense of an oncoming thunderstorm.
Birds and bees also seem to have the ability to sense drops in barometric pressure or some other sense that lets them know when a storm is approaching. You will notice that birds and bees will instinctively seek cover when a storm is on its way. Birds use the same ability to determine when it is time for them to migrate, and it is extremely accurate because birds all seem to respond of the same time when a change happens that could signal a storm.
Observing the Sky
Looking at the sky can also give you a great deal of information about an oncoming storm. The type of clouds that you see can determine what sort of storm is coming or if a storm is coming at all. For example, cumulus clouds our giant pillow clouds that often clump up in the sky. This is a type of confirmation in the summer that often means that a storm is coming. These are usually severe thunderstorms that are accompanied by lightning. Cumulus clouds can form quickly in the heat of the day and when they begin to grow vertically and become black clouds that have an anvil shape, then you can be sure that a thunderstorm is coming.
Kinda like this:
If you notice cirrus clouds forming high up in the atmosphere, then you can usually predict an incoming warm front and potential bad weather. Cirrus clouds their high wispy clouds that can predict an oncoming storm up to 48 hours in advance. They look very similar to the contrails left by jet planes.
There are also lenticular clouds which are sometimes known as wave clouds. Lenticular clouds are long and smooth and they mean that there are high winds in the upper atmosphere. These clouds are rather rare but can provide a great deal of information. Typically, you will find these clouds on the downwind side of a mountain or range.
Finally, you can look at the clouds and see what is moving in order to predict weather. For example, if you see two dark clouds moving in different directions, then you know that the atmosphere is unstable and that is storm may be coming. It can indicate when one weather front is moving up against another.
The Smell of the Air
You can often tell when a storm is coming by the smell in the air. Many people think that what they are smelling is the rain, but there are actually a number of different things that people smell that makes them think that a storm is coming. The smells are especially strong when rain comes after a long dry spell.
There are three common smells that people associate with storms.
The first is ozone. Before rain begins, you may notice ozone as the winds and clouds blow the scent of it towards you. It is a sweet and pungent scent that you can smell during a storm because the downdraft of a thunderstorm carries O3 from a higher altitude to your altitude.
You can also smell the effects of rain on various surfaces. Rain disturbs odoriferous molecules, particularly when they are dry, and carries them into the air. If you happen to be near an area where this is happening the wind can bring this scent to you and let you know that a storm is coming. This scent is known as petrichor.
Finally, the other scent that you may smell will be damp earth, which is what is left after a storm moves through an area. It is the aroma of geosmin which is a byproduct of algae and some bacteria.
Temperature changes can also let you know that a storm is approaching. If you pay attention to the temperature, you can get several hours of warning or at least some warning at all even with fast approaching storms.
In order for severe storms to form, warm air at a low level has to collide with cold air at a higher level. The wind will slam these two masses of air together and you can often notice a temperature drop. That’s because the warm air goes up leaving the cold air below.
So if you are standing outside, and you notice the temperature drop quickly, or if you have a thermometer outside showing a fast drop in temperature (I love this weather center from Amazon). You may want to prepare for a storm, this can mean that one is fast approaching. The more pronounced this temperature drop is, the more severe the storm is likely to be.
While this method is useful, it can usually only tell you when a storm is approaching in the very near future.
If you have a barometer, then you can monitor barometric pressure. If the atmospheric or barometric pressure drops, then it is a good indication that a storm is coming. Lower barometric pressure usually indicates rain or snow within the next day or so.
Wind & its Effect on Trees & Plants
Wind can also be observed to determine whether a storm is coming. You should definitely look at the direction of the wind. Wind is caused when air from a high-pressure area moves to low-pressure area. Weather will move in from the west, so westerly winds mean that good weather is coming. On the other hand, easterly winds can mean that bad weather is on its way. Look at grass, trees and other things around you to determine the direction of the wind if you want to tell whether or not a storm is coming.
If you live near the ocean, you can also look at ocean swells. Swells can be caused by winds from a storm system that is out over the sea. When the swells happen, it can indicate that rain is on its way or even a more serious storm. The stronger that these swells are, the better the indication is that there is going to be a storm coming because high winds often accompany the storms.
How to Survive Being Caught in a Storm
If you are caught in a thunderstorm, there definitely some things you want to do to ensure your safety.
What you should do depends a lot on where you are when the thunderstorm happens. For example, if you are out walking when a thunderstorm strikes (literally), your reaction should be very different from if you are driving a car, are inside a house or place of business.
Thunderstorms can come on quickly, and they can be dangerous in some cases. Hurricanes are especially dangerous, and every major hurricane happens almost always results in a few deaths. That is why it is so important to have a preparation plan if you are caught in a storm.
If you are caught in what is simply a severe thunderstorm, the main thing that you want to look out for is lightning. Even during severe thunderstorms, the winds are usually not high enough to cause more than minor damage; however, lightning strikes can be a different story.
If you are close to where lightning is coming down, you want to make sure that you seek shelter or be near something that is grounded. Essentially, you do not want to be the tallest object or near the tallest object. One of the best shelters is actually inside your vehicle if you have no other options. This is because of the metal frame, NOT the tires. The metal frame serves as a conductor and will diverge the energy away.
If you are inside your house, then you simply want to make sure that you stay away from windows during the thunderstorm.
When it comes to monsoons, they can be extremely dangerous as well. In North America, monsoons are usually called Southwest monsoons. They come with a great deal of rain as well as thunderstorms. However, the rain and the thunderstorms are not the biggest problems. Make sure your cloths are waterproofed!
Instead, dust storms and flash floods are what you really need to be concerned about. You need to be prepared, watch your forecast and look for signs of foul weather.
There are also hurricanes in some parts of the country. Hurricanes are tropical cyclones that form over tropical waters. Hurricane season starts in June and runs until the end of November. You will know if a hurricane is coming if you watch the news, they will begin building off of the coast and will usually take several days to get to a populated area.
Surviving a hurricane is difficult, which is why if a severe hurricane is going to hit a populated area, government officials usually issue evacuation orders. When people stay behind, they are it high risk for serious injury or death due to the flooding and high winds that cause damage to structures.
No matter what kind of storm you’re trying to prepare for, the best way to do so is to stay informed. Make sure that you get weather alerts on your phone and have a disaster kit ready with items like food, water, clothing next your medications. You also need a first aid kit, flashlights, lighters, candles and that sort of thing. Stay away from flooded areas even if you think that it is not that deep.
I hope we have helped you determine if foul weather is approaching. If we missed anything please let us know and we will cover it.