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By, Greg Brown

So, you don't have a barometer or a NOAA radio and you still want to forecast the weather? It's possible, but your forecasts may not be as accurate. Here are some tricks that have been around a long, long time that might give you a clue as to what the weather should be like.

Build a campfire! If the smoke of the campfire hangs low around the fire (doesn't rise above the tree tops in a column) you are currently in a low pressure system and therefore it may rain. If the smoke rises rapidly above the fire you are in a high pressure system (and you should expect clear skies). If the smoke rapidly rises when the fire is first started and it slowly changes over several hours and hangs lows around the fire then the weather system is changing from high pressure to low pressure and you should expect a change in the weather condition. The reverse is true as well.

Use your coffee to predict the weather! (cow in the mug optional)

Can't build a fire? Brew some strong coffee (and not decaf). With a high pressure system the surface of the coffee (in the mug) rises toward the center and is lower at the edges (picture a ball just under the surface of the coffee that is the same diameter as the mug). If you see the "ball in the coffee" expect clear skies. If there is a depression in the center of the coffee and the edges are slightly higher you are under a low pressure system, so expect some rain. Don't worry if you can't see the depression or the globe in the coffee. The bubbles in the coffee will naturally want to rise to the highest point so if you see bubbles at the edges of the cup and not the center you are under a low pressure system. If the bubbles rise towards the center of the mug, you are under a high pressure system. We can use this information because we now know that lower pressure equates to a possibility of rain while high pressure generally means clear skies.

No coffee and no fire you say? Is there a ring around the sun or moon? If so, expect a change in the current weather and more than likely this change will be rain. A real meteorologist once told me that the ring around the moon is caused by moisture in the upper atmosphere causing light rays to bend. If this is the cause of the ring or not, I can't say, but this method of forecasting does seem to work! Oh yeah, don't stare (or even look directly) at the sun to see if there is a ring - it can do serious and lasting damage to the eyes.

Are you camping or wheeling near a lake or pond that you are familiar with? If so, look at the condition of the water. If the pond or lake is not known to be normally "polluted" with sticks, leaves, and other debris floating on the surface this could be caused by a low pressure system overhead. As the pressure of the atmosphere drops lots of "junk" on the bottom on the pond/lake will rise to the surface. This process can be seen in the extreme in North Carolina after a hurricane passes over the area (which is far too often, I might add). It should be noted that for this method of forecasting to work the pond should have a lot of sticks, leaves, etc. on the bottom of the pond in the first place.

In closing, it should be noted that if you are engaging in an activity where a change in the weather could make a life and death difference, don't use the backwoods forecasting methods - get a professional forecast for an expert meteorologist.

Hopefully, all this information will enable you to better forecast the weather before your next trail ride. If you do have an interest in amateur meteorology I highly suggest picking up a barometer of some kind. You'd be surprised at just how accurate of a weather forecast you can make with just a simple, analog barometer. If, like me, you're into electronic gizmos then you are in luck! There are plenty of portable and fixed-base devices that contain almost everything you could possibly need in order to make an extremely accurate weather forecast. I really enjoy my Brunton Sherpa and you can bet it will be with in my 4x4 on the next trail ride or camping trip!



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Greg Brown is not a licensed metereologist. The information containted in this article is accurate, to the best of our knowledge.