This section is an excerpt from the book, Camping’s Top Secrets by Cliff
Jacobson. To see a full review for this book, check out Camping’s Top
is full of useful tent camping tips for spotting bad weather while camping:
“Every outdoors person should have a basic understanding of weather
phenomena and be able to make reasonably accurate short-term weather predictions. Some campers take
forecasting quite seriously; they arm themselves with min/max thermometers, barometers, cloud charts, and
weather tables. Whether or not this paraphernalia will improve your short-range forecasts is
debatable. After all, primitive man is right on target more than 80 percent of the time simply by
looking at the sky, sensing the wind, and “feeling” the weather. You can approximate this
enviable success rate by applying these time-proven principles:
“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in the morning, sailor take
warning.” Translation: A red morning sky indicates possible rain that day; a red evening sky
suggests the next day will be clear.
The color difference relates to the reflective value of the low-lying cloud
Check the grass, tent, canoe bottom, or whatever for the presence of dew in
late evening or early morning.
A heavy dew at either of these times usually suggests eight to twelve
hours of good weather.
Watch the smoke from your campfire. If it hangs low (a
function of low pressure) to the ground, rain is on the way. If it rises high into a
nice vertical column (high pressure), count on good weather.
Check out the air bubbles in your coffee cup. They’ll ring the edges of
the cup when a low pressure (rain) system sets in.
You can sometimes smell a coming storm, as the low pressure allows methane
(swamp gas) to rise and drift with the current. In boggy areas the odor
is quite pronounced.
“When the peacock loudly bawls, there’ll be both rain and
squalls.” Translation: Birds sing loudly just before a storm.
Geese and seagulls usually won’t fly just before a
storm. Low-pressure air is thin and it’s hard for them to get
The ears of many animals are sensitive to low
pressure. Wolves will howl before a storm. Dogs will become
nervous and emit howls or howl-like sounds.
To determine the distance of a lighting strike, count the seconds between
the flash and the thunder boom.
Divide by five and you’ll have your answer in
10. Noises all become louder and more vibrant just before a rain,
because the sound is reflected and magnified by the low clouds. The croaking of frogs,
yodel of loons, etc., will echo loudly if rain is imminent.
Be alert for changes in wind direction. Storms are whirlpools of
wind that rotate counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere (remember high school science?).
“Wind from the south brings rain in its mouth” is the keystone here, as the wind that precedes a storm
usually blows from the south.
Counterclockwise wind shifts therefore usually bring rain, while
clockwise movements indicate fair weather. You can keep these
directional changes straight by remembering the rhymes…
“Wind from the east brings weather that’s a
beast.” (Suggest a counterclockwise wind shift from the south to east, east to north, and so
“Wind from the west brings weather that’s best.” (Suggests a clockwise
wind shift from south to west, north to east, etc.)
Most everyone knows that frogs emerge from the water just before a storm and
croak their fool heads off. Frogs breathe partly through their skin (which must be kept moist), so when the humidity
rises just before a storm, they climb ashore and sing happily.
If you’re a canoeist, you know that about eight to twelve hours before a
storm, mosquitoes and blackflies begin to swarm and bite more than usual. Up to two hours before
the storm they quit biting altogether.
Check out the rainbow: A heavy red may mean more rain; vibrant rich blue
suggests clear skies ahead.
Here’s an old Down East proverb: “Filly tails make lofty ships wear low
sails.” Translation: Thin, hairlike clouds forecast rain within the day. These “filly tails” are
really streaks of ice thrown skyward by the rising air of a coming storm.
“A mackerel sky [tiny scalelike clouds that resemble a mackerel’s back],
just twenty-four hours dry.” Translation: Expect rain within the next day!
Any fireflies around? When rain approaches,
these little insects light up the woods, according to this rhyme: “When the little glow bug lights his lamp, the
air around is surely damp.”
Listen for the rustle of leaves as the wind precedes the
If you can’t see the sharp points on a half moon, rain may be on its
way. Translation: Low clouds and haze distort sharp images.
Bright, twinkling stars usually indicate high altitude winds, which may be
bringing in a storm.
There’s a good chance that foul weather (rain or snow) will fall within
three days of a new moon phase.
“The weather out west had best be best, for tomorrow will bring it to you to
test!” This means that in all likelihood, the weather system to your west will be at your
In summer a sun dog, or halo around the sun, generally predicts the coming
of rain. Sun dogs are caused by sunlight streaming through the ice particles of high cirrostratus
clouds. A halo around the moon may also indicate rain.
“Evening fog will not burn soon, but morning fog will burn before high
noon.” Invariably, a fog-borne day will become perfectly clear (an ideal day) by
noon. Fog forms when water vapor reaches the dew point and condenses on dust particles near
the ground. When the day heats up, the fog evaporates and turns to invisible water
“Short notice, soon it will pass. Long notice, expect it to
last.” Watch the clouds.
If they take several days to build, a warm front- and prolonged rain- is
usually in the offing. If the storm system builds suddenly, it will probably pass
And of course everyone knows: “Rain before seven, dry by
*To get some unconventional camping tips, take a look at