May 30, 2010

The weather misforecast

SOMEONE ON TELEVISION the other night was complaining about the accuracy of weather forecasts. She said she had checked 17 local forecasts and 15 of them had been wrong.

Well, that’s no news to sailors, of course. We’re used to that sort of misinformation. If we believed all the small-craft advisories and gale warnings up here in the Pacific Northwest we’d never have the nerve to leave harbor.

I’ve always maintained that a barometer, common sense, and experience are a sailor’s three best weather forecasters. And perhaps the old, old weather proverbs handed down to us by our forefathers are useful, too — certainly as good as the forecasts we get around here, anyway.

For instance:

When halo rings the moon or sun
Rain’s approaching on the run

The U.S. Weather Service confirms that rain follows about 75 percent of sun halos and about 65 percent of moon halos. Most often, you’re looking at the sun or moon through the ice-crystals of lofty cirrus clouds, and a sky filled with these indicates an approaching warm front and soft, soaking rain.

Beware the bolts from north or west
In south or east the bolts be best.

Um yes, well, duh. Fairly obvious, but also accurate if you live in the north temperate zone where the weather usually travels from west to east. If you spot lightning in the northwest it’s a thunderstorm coming toward you. If it flashes down in the south or east, you can wave it goodbye.

Seagull, seagull, get out on t’ sand.
We’ll ne’er have good weather with thee on t’ land.

That’s a British couplet, of course, but seagulls are much the same the world over. They scavenge on the sea shore when the weather is fair, and they move inland to those delicious waste dumps when it comes over foul.

Regrettably, seagulls don’t seem to be brilliant at forecasting, though. They tend to be more driven by the weather than to anticipate it, so their usefulness to us is definitely limited. Personally, I’d rather rely on the barometer or rings around the sun.

Today’s Thought
To talk of the weather, it’s nothing but folly,
For when it rains on the hill, it shines in the valley
— Michael Denham, Proverbs

Boater’s Rules of Thumb, #58
Dock lines. Your springs should be a quarter longer than your boat’s length on deck. The diameter of your dock lines should be 1/8th inch for every 9 feet of boat length.

Little Johnny’s teacher asked him to spell weather.
He thought about it for a while and then said “W-A-E-I-T-H-R.”
"My goodness," remarked his teacher, “That’s the worst spell of weather we’ve had around here for years.”

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