Weather Watching 101

Spending time exploring the parks, pathways, and forests of Michigan can be a year-round activity. The normal routine generally begins by mapping out a trip. Then, depending on the season, the car is packed with photographic gear, various resource guides, snacks, water, rain or snow outerwear, and a spirit of adventure. Finally, it's off to the "wilds of Michigan." But did you forget the most important preparation item? Did you check the weather forecast?

Keeping an eye on the weather can prevent unexpected disappointments. Most of our weather, or air masses, move in from the west. Several weather signs to place in your memory bank include cloud types, their shapes, direction of movement, sky color, wind direction, barometric pressure, saturated air such as fog, mist, dew or frost, sun dogs, and moon rings.

High clouds are the cirrus, cirrocumulus, and cirrostratus; these are found at 20,000 to 40,000 feet; middle clouds are the alto-stratus and cumulus floating at 8,500 feet; the low clouds developing from the ground up to 8,500 feet are the cumulus's. They resemble heavy lumping masses, mixed with other cloud formations. Their colors can be snowy white, gray tones, or black.

Bright, blue skies with cottony-looking cumulus clouds are indications of a fair weather system. Should these cumulus clouds begin to build high into the sky, watch out for changing weather. Rising barometers indicate high pressure moving in, bringing fair weather, and dropping barometers indicate low pressure systems which often trigger storms.

Nature can also provide clues. When birds are flying low to the ground to catch insects, this could be an indication of approaching rain. Sudden changes in wind direction can indicate weather fronts are moving through.

Even some well-used weather rhymes are fun to remember and may have some validity:

When the dew is on the grass,
Rain will never come to pass.
When grass is dry at morning light,
Look for rain before the night.

The National Weather Service is a good source of information on upcoming weather. Most cable companies provide access to a weather station, and local forecasts can easily be found on the internet.

When you plan your next viewing trip, remember to keep an eye to the sky and your local weather news.