Camping & Survival

Keep Your Eye on Mother Nature to Stay Safe Outdoors

Cumulus clouds may predict thunderstorms ahead.

You may have the latest weather app for your phone or even a weather radio on hand to help monitor changing weather conditions as these gadgets are cool and great for keeping you informed. However, when technology fails or you are miles from the nearest cell tower, how do you monitor the weather? It helps to know a few things about clouds and plants as these natural indicators may help you survive inclement weather, especially if you are in the wilderness.

Cumulus clouds may predict thunderstorms ahead.
Bluebird skies and cumulus clouds usually make for a beautiful rain free day.

Eye on the Sky

Clouds and changing skies are obvious indications of changing weather. For example, did you know that a cloud called a cirrus cloud or “mare’s tail” usually indicates storms may appear, usually within the next 24 to 36 hours? Although no two types of clouds are alike, in the meteorological world clouds usually fall into one of the four different categories:

  • Cirrus—high wispy clouds
  • Nimbus—thunderstorm producing
  • Cumulus—cotton-like puffy clouds
  • Stratus—uniform, gray, widespread, condensation producing

Deciphering what a cloud type may indicate will help you gauge the changing forecast.

Leave it to the Trees

Leave it to the trees to predict rain.
When you are miles from civilization, it helps to know how to read the signs Mother Nature sends us about changing weather.

If you see leaves from deciduous trees turning up as if they are pushing themselves to the skies, this is usually a sign of rain in the forecast. Some specific varieties such as maple and oak leaves tend to roll up, indicating rain or higher than normal levels of humidity are in the forecast.

Rhododendron leaves, which cover the Eastern region of the United States, will curl up in low temperatures, the tighter the curl the colder the temps.

The unique musty aroma of the wetlands often indicates rain is on the way.
Wetlands and swampy areas typically have a unique, musty aroma.

The Nose Knows

If you have ever been in a wetland or deep in the woods or even on the prairie before a rainmaker you can often smell a difference in the air as scents are stronger in moist air. Each type of terrain offers its own unique version of aroma-forecasting, from musty odors of the swamps to the smell of freshly turned dirt of the prairies or the stronger than usual dose of piney fragrance in the mountains.

All Ears

In fairer weather, sound waves have a shorter range because they travel upward. On days that are cloudy or humid, the sound waves bend back and travel further. However, you can sometimes predict pending rain or snow showers from distance sounds similar to a far off a train and will sound louder than usual.

Fact or Fiction

Sunrise is a good indicator of the day's weather.
An early morning sunrise makes it easy to do your weather homework.

Weather and folk lore go hand-in-hand. While some “old wives” tales may be hard to scientifically prove while others are just downright nonsense, there are few such lore which may actually be more gospel than gossip. You can make up your own mind but here are several that seem to ring true.

If there is dew on the grass in the morning, it will not rain that day. Another is a ring around the moon (or sun) means rain or snow is coming soon. My favorite is if you see a turtle crossing the road, it means rain is on its way soon. If you ever see a prairie dog at the Home Depot store buying a sump pump, I would recommend you head to higher ground.

Build Your Bank of Knowledge

Regardless of whether you are sipping a glass of iced tea on your front porch or you are miles from civilization, the truth is, Mother Nature still calls the shots when it comes to the weather. Surviving the chaos she sometimes hurls at us really depends upon you, your common sense and the skills you have acquired over the years.

Learn to read the clouds, trees, plants, wind and even animals and build your own bank of knowledge of weather indicators and hopefully by building such skills you will be able to survive the ever-changing weather.

Have a cloud story? Tell us about your weather folklore in the comment section.


The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (3)

  1. Thank You. Being a city dweller information like this is something I’ll print and re-read until I can see it with my eyes closed. Thanks again, Hank

  2. Reading the clouds is an important skill to have, it is used by Pilots, Farmers, Backpackers and everyday citizens. Every town, county and countryside have their own micro-climates. You can’t just listen to your local weatherman/weatherwoman, it is too broad of a forecast.
    I live in an area that has cloud buildup every afternoon, but we have mountain ridges on both sides of our valley. Depending on the barometric pressure in our valley, we can be surrounded by heavy moisture filled clouds that are dumping rain at a high rate, we will be dry as a bone and the clouds move around us.
    Every area is different, animals are great forecasters as they respond to changes in barometric pressure changes. They are usually more accurate than any weather person that I’ve ever heard.

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