With its £97 million super-computer, the Met Office boasts that it can predict the weather up to a year ahead. But if your experience of its flawed reports makes you want to look elsewhere for more accurate predictions, Nature offers numerous pointers.
Now, in his new book The Weather Detective, forester Peter Wohlleben shows how you can analyse weather patterns and learn more about the living world simply by looking around us . . .
The natural environment gives us plenty of opportunity to predict the weather in advance
The rhyme, ‘red sky at night, shepherd’s delight,’ which first appears in the Bible in the book of Matthew, is based on scientific fact. If the sun sets in the evening with a rosy glow, then there is likely to be sunshine the following morning.
The saying is most reliable when weather systems predominantly come from the West as they do in the UK.
So, if it’s fine in the West, then beams from the sun — as it sets in that direction— can stream unhindered through the clear skies and light up any clouds drifting off to the East.
Meanwhile, the saying, ‘red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning’ is also usually right. A red sky appears early in the day as a result of the high-pressure weather system having already moved east. This means the good weather has passed, most likely making way for a windy low-pressure system and rain — falling on the shepherds’ flocks.
When the air gets humid in the hours before rain, many wild-flowers protectively close their petals.
Typical are daisies. If the white petals are closed and you cannot see the yellow middle disc, it is not wise to hang out your washing.
WHY STEMS SNAP
Most plants are naturally stable enough to withstand heavy rainfall.
However, so many varieties that we grow in modern gardens are unnaturally made to grow faster by being given artificial fertiliser. This leads to tall, fragile stems that are insufficiently woody. It is little wonder that they snap easily under stress.
ALL HAIL A STORM
You can learn a lot about the life-story of a hailstone by slicing it in half.
It has a layered structure similar to the rings in tree trunks — both showing their age. Hailstones are formed in storm clouds. As they are pulled up several miles into the sky by strong wind currents, more water accumulates on their outsides and they freeze, making them bigger.
When the strength of the wind drops in the highest altitudes, the hailstones fall back down into the stormy zone, where the updraught again thrusts them upward.
Each time they do this they get bigger until, finally, they become too heavy to be kept in the air by wind currents and they drop to the ground.
Each layer of ice is created by a single ‘up and down’ journey through the storm cloud. For example, five rings correspond to five loops of this natural rollercoaster.
THE BEAK-ING CLOCK
Evolution has led birds to sing at different time of day so as to give themselves a better chance to be heard rather than being drowned out.
So, in order to warn off rivals, or to woo a mate, different species tend to start at different times in the morning.
The skylark begins while it’s still dark — one and a half hours before sunrise. Next, redstarts begin their chorus.
Evolution has led birds to sing at different time of day so as to give themselves a better chance to be heard rather than being drowned out
Blackbirds then perform exactly one hour before sunrise, with chiffchaffs following 30 minutes later.
Then, as the sun appears on the horizon, all the birds join in the dawn chorus. From then on, if you want to determine the time without aid of a watch, you’ll need to turn your attention to flowers.
ANT AND TREK
Have you ever puzzled over why flowers that have grown for years in a certain area of your garden suddenly appear in another part the following spring? It may be because ants picked up the seeds to gorge on fleshy, oil-rich appendages (called elaiosomes) which are found on some seeds and then they drop them up to 90 feet away from the parent plant.
Plants which make use of this free delivery service include wild strawberries, dog violets, wild garlic, dead-nettles and forget-me-nots.
Britain averages 133 days of rain or snow a year, totalling 885 millimetres.
Plants adapt to deal with these downpours in different ways. Watch, for example, how, when it rains, rhubarb uses its large, funnel-shaped leaves to catch the water and guide it down its stems to the roots. The same technique is used by dandelions.
Water management in your gardens depends on the soil type. Sandy soils allow a lot of water to trickle into the deeper layers, meaning that the groundwater is well replenished, but plants can dry out quickly. On the other hand, loamy soils — a mixture of sand, silt and clay — retain moisture from which plants benefit even over long periods with low levels of rainfall.
There is a simple trick for checking whether your soil is sufficiently moist: push aside the humus (the brownish black matter on top, usually just one to two centimetres deep) until you see the pure soil.
Press a clump of this between your index finger and thumb. If it sticks together, it is moist enough. But if it crumbles as