In earlier times when peoples’ lives were more connected with their immediate environment, because of hunting and farming, an immense fund of sayings and techniques arose pertaining to how to forecast the weather through the actions of animals and environment. Many of these are still useful today, particularly if you are out in the countryside for the day or camping in an area where you cannot get a reliable forecast. Sometimes these are better than the general forecasts as they are specific to your area rather than one that covers hundreds of square miles.
Perhaps the most famous bit of weather lore is the old rhyme “Red sky at night, shepherds delight. Red sky in morning shepherds warning”. Originating in the UK this refers to the setting sun illuminating a departing front that would be gone by the following day, whereas the red sky in the morning was the rising sun illuminating a front – with the accompanying rain- that was on the way towards the observer. This is still true today, although it can be reversed south of the equator because of the Coriolis Effect, where wind patterns travel from west to east in the northern half of the planet but from east to west on the southern half. So that a red sky in the morning would suggest a dry day, and the same at sunset would presage a wet evening and night.
In both hemispheres the behaviour of the clouds can indicate other things too. High mackerel clouds (clouds in light and dark stripes or bands like those on the Mackerel fish) predict fine weather for the next day. But if the clouds are low, heavy, or moving quickly, then it is likely to be very windy as well as fine. If the evening sky takes on a greenish colour then rain is on the way, and if it is already raining and the clouds start to look slightly green, then the rain will be heavier and last for longer. If, however, a patch of blue sky appears in this type of weather and begins to expand, then the rain will usually end within an hour. A yellowish cast to the sky precedes a light wind, but if the wind changes direction often and quickly then violent storms may be in the offing.
When night falls the moon and stars can be excellent indicators of weather to come, which is useful if you are planning a ritual, or already out in the countryside. A halo around the moon, particularly if it is lead coloured, rain is on the way. If the halo is red/crimson in colour it foretells wind and rain. The size of the halo indicates the amount of rain you can expect, a large halo means lots of rain, while a small one suggests only light drizzle. When there is little or no moon the way the stars behave can be used. If they are small and seem to blink a lot there will be wind the next day. If the stars are large and appear to be blinking then wind and rain are on the way, but if they are large and clear then fine weather can be expected.
How a fire behaves, particularly if you are camping, can provide clues about coming weather. Smoke clinging close to the ground and flowing into fellow campers tents is a sign that rain is to be expected , but if it rises straight up then the weather will be, or continue to be, fine. Especially if the flames of the fire burn clear and bright. Like smoke, morning mist can help you gauge the weather for the day, a light low ground mist precedes a fine one. However if the mist is high on the hills, or heavy and being blown by the wind both mean rain is on the way.
The behaviour of some plants and animals can also be a useful way of forecasting the weather. Plants such as the Scarlet Pimpernel close their petals before rain and are known locally by nicknames such as “The poor man’s weatherglass”. Where I lived in Hungary a grove of trees near to where we lived would rustle their leaves – almost as if talking to each other – just before a cloudburst. Once I had experienced this I started to notice it was a common phenomenon in all the countries I lived in.
Insects become more active an hour or two before rain, as do the birds that feed on them. The only exception to this is just before a big thunderstorm when everything becomes very still, it’s the proverbial “calm before the storm”. Frogs and toads will come out of hiding and start croaking just before a period of fine weather comes to an end, and gnats/no-see-ums will gather in large clouds. If these insects form wispy spirals then the next day will be fine, and be confirmed by spiders making new webs to catch them in. If spiders only repair their webs then rain can be expected, and this can be confirmed if you see ants building little walls around the entrance to their nest, and/or bees only making short journeys from their home or hive.
These are some of the most accurate methods I know of forecasting weather from the behaviour of the environment and its animal inhabitants. To some extent they have been superseded by the more accurate weather maps and rainfall radar, but they can still be very useful if you are out “in the field” for any length of time camping or on a spiritual quest. Being aware of these events, even with access to modern technology can still help you attune to the land and get the most out of your Pagan path.