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We didn't always have the weather forecast available everywhere, and there's times when it would be useful to be able to be able to take a good guess at weather conditions in the near future by looking at things such as wind, cloud cover, cloud types, sky colour and so on.

Are there some general, relatively easy tricks that can be used to forecast the weather in the wilderness using just your senses?

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fwiw - I carry a small emergency weather radio when backpacking. One that uses a crank for electricity instead of batteries so it's pretty light. Some of the worst storms give very little notice of how bad they will be. –  Justin C Jul 28 '12 at 15:49
    
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3 Answers

I don't believe there's an easy way of doing it.

I used to live in a hilly area and was able to forecast the weather based on where the thunder was coming from, the wind, the smell in the air, the type of surrounding light, cloud cover.

Since I moved in the mountains, the signs have changed a lot.

But if you know the land features from the surrounding area, and generic weather patters, you could have an idea of what the forecast might be using wind speed, direction, change in temperature, types of clouds, and so on.

EDIT:

For example, in the summer, one can forecast rain by the change in the surrounding light. Rain can be smelled from long distances if the winds are right. Also, a change in humidity could easily be felt. Air feels heavier, wetter.
Same with snow. Clouds look heavy and it creates a certain bright glare.
Also, in the winter, clear night skies bring a cold night.

As I said before, it depends a lot on the location. These are just generic guidelines of what to look for.

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Above and beyond the "red sky at night, sailor's delight" type of forecasting, there are some tried and true techniques. See my post for examples. –  furtive Aug 10 '12 at 23:20
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As @slybloty says, there is no hard and fast rule, however:

  • For your location, be aware of prevailing winds, the location of seas, coasts, mountains, deserts etc. as these will guide your guesses
  • When rain associated with a front is coming through, gusts of wind will increase as the relative density of the air increases. You may also be able to smell the rain coming
  • Cumulonimbus coming your way should warn you of rain, possibly heavy, but this may not be relevant in certain climates
  • Dark clouds coming your way should worry you more than light fluffy, high clouds, as darker generally means more stormy weather
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  • If you see "horse tail" clouds (long and wispy) or mackerel/fish scale clouds high up you can expect rain in the next 36 hours. See 'em both at the same time and it'll rain tomorrow for sure.

  • Cloud towers (cumulus): a good chance of rain later on in the day.

  • Mammatus (those big bumps on the bottom of clouds) mean the storm is over.

  • Clouds moving quickly in different directions means bad weather is ahead.

  • Rainbows on the west (happens in morning) usually mean more rain to come, rainbows on the east (happens later in the day) usually mean the rain is over.

I've been testing these for about two years now and I'd say it's close to 100% accurate (tested in Canadian Rockies but the original source was not location specific). It's gotten to the point where I see clouds in photos and right away predict the weather. It can't be unseen!

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Also, if you smell the earth a lot more or start hearing the trees a lot more that's usually a good sign of an oncoming storm. I've heard swamps release gasses before storms because of the low pressure. –  furtive Aug 8 '12 at 17:54
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