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How to become a Weather Detector

Long before TV weathermen ever existed, shepherds, farmers and sailors relied on Mother Nature to tell them if rain was on the way. From the clouds, the moon and the sun to changes in plants and animal behaviour, all the signs are there – you just have to know what to look for! So, next time rain is due, grab a pad and pencil, go outside and make a note of any of the natural signs you see. If you do the same thing before a few more rainfalls, you’ll soon be able to predict the weather on your own. Just follow nature’s signs…


Look up to the skies How to read the clouds Clouds are made up of lots of tiny water droplets and they float because the water in them is warmer than the air around them. They can be white, grey or dark grey. The darker a cloud is, the more water it is carrying and the more likely it is to drop the water as rain or snow.

These are the main types of cloud: Cirrus clouds are white, thin and wispy and form very high in the sky. They are usually seen in mild weather, but if they look like long streamers it is a sign of bad weather to come. Cumulus clouds are white and fluffy like cotton wool and hang low in the sky. If they are tall, or large and bundled together it could mean rain. Stratus clouds are grey and cover the sky like a blanket. They are flat and low and usually indicate rain, drizzle, fog or mist. Nimbus clouds are puffy, dark and low and fill in the sky but not in a solid blanket. A sure sign of rain. Cirrocumulus clouds have a fish-scale like appearance and are known as a ‘Mackerel Sky’. These clouds indicate moisture in the air and in winter often mean snow. Cumulonimbus is a towering storm cloud with an anvil-shaped top and brings rain, sleet, hail and often thunder and lightening.

Today, we have spotted these signs in the sky:

What’s happening to the sun and moon? If the moon is bright and clear, rain is coming soon. A ring around the sun or moon means rain or snow within three days. A red moon usually indicates rain.


Talk to the plants Get down on your hands and knees and discover what the grass, flowers, fungi and pine cones can tell you about the weather. If the grass is wet with dew when you wake up, the chances are it won’t rain today. But if the dandelions, clover and tulips fold their petals in, then you can be pretty sure that those showers are on the way. Oak and maple leaves will also react if rain is likely, by curling up and showing their underside. Most plants get excited before a storm and so produce more scent, which is why people often say, “it smells like rain.�

Today, the plants have told us the following:

Pick up a pine cone. They have been used to predict the weather for centuries. When the air is dry the cones open up, but once moisture is in the air they close again and return to their normal shape. How clever!


Do the animals know something we don’t know? And if you’re still not sure about what nature’s got to say, perhaps these old proverbs can tell you a thing or two about how to predict the weather… “A ring around the sun or moon means rain or snow is coming soon.” “When grass is dry at morning light, look for rain before the night.” “Rain before seven, fine before eleven.” “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning.” “A sunshiny shower won’t last half an hour.” “Catchy drawer and sticky door, coming rain will pour and pour.” “Clear moon, frost soon.”

Today, the animals have given us these clues:

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Trust your furry, feathered and even eight-legged friends to give you some handy hints about rainy weather on the way. Here are some tell tale signs to look out for from the animal kingdom: You’ve heard of the quiet before the storm? Forest animals and birds, go quiet before heavy rain or a storm, but insects and amphibians get louder! Cows tend to lie down before the rain starts. Birds and bats fly lower to the ground. Spiders close their webs when rain is on the way. Animals that come out IN the rain: Slugs, snails, frogs, toads, newts and worms. Animals that come out AFTER the rain: Grass snakes, flies and swallows – and birds start to sing.


Have fun making your own weather station at home If you’ve enjoyed exploring the weather here, why not make your own met office at home, with these easy to follow experiments. Enjoy! Make fog What you need: • glass jar • strainer • water • ice cubes How to do it: • Fill up the jar completely with warm water for about a minute • Pour out most of the water, leaving about one inch in the jar • Put the strainer over the top of the jar • Place a few (3-4) ice cubes in the strainer • Watch what happens! Explanation: The cold air from the ice cubes collides with the warm, moist air in the jar causing the water to condense and form fog. See a raindrop What you need: • shoebox lid • ruler • flour • bowl • fine mesh sieve How to do it: • Fill the shoebox lid with flour • Use the ruler to smooth out the top, so that it’s level • When it rains, hold the shoebox lid out in the rain until about 15-25 raindrops have fallen into the flour • Bring the lid inside to see what you’ve found • Set the sieve over the bowl. Carefully pour the flour from the lid into the bowl. Shake the sieve gently. The little lumps left behind are preserved raindrops • Carefully tip them out onto a table and measure them!

Make your own barometer What you need: • small coffee can • cling film • scissors • drinking straw • index card • rubber band • sellotape How to do it: • Tightly cover the top of the coffee can with cling film, using a rubber band to hold it in place. The cover should make the can airtight. • Place the straw horizontally or sideways on the cling film so that two-thirds of the straw is on the can. Tape it to the middle of the film so it won’t fall off. • Tape an index card to the can behind the straw. The straw will act as a pointer on the card. • Carefully record the location of the straw on the index card with a pencil. You can draw measures on the index card to make observing the changes easier. • After 15 minutes, record the new location of the straw on the index card. Continue checking and recording the straw location as often as you want. Explanation: High pressure will make the cling film cave in and the straw go up. Low pressure will make the plastic puff up and the straw go down. If possible, check your measurements with a real barometer. Fascinating facts Raindrops range from 1/100 inch (0.0254 centimetre) to 1/4 inch (0.635 centimetre) in diameter. Without wind driving them, raindrops fall between 7 and 18 miles per hour (3 and 8 metres per second) in still air. The speed depends on the the size of the raindrop. Air friction breaks up raindrops when they exceed 18 miles per hour. A cloud is a large collection of very tiny droplets of water or ice crystals. The droplets are so small and light that they can float in the air. The tiny droplets of water that make up fog are so small that it would take seven thousand million of them to make a single tablespoonful of water. www.nationaltrust.org.uk National Trust is an independent charity looking after special places for ever for everyone Registered charity no. 205846


National Trust Wet Weather Detector