Camping Fun and Survival: Weather Prediction

When camping you are vulnerable to the elements, but don’t let that scare you off. You have all the tools in nature to predict upcoming bad weather, allowing you to be prepared at anything that mother nature throws in your direction. These survival tips are great for everyone, of all ages, and fun to learn. Predicting upcoming weather is not only a great skill when out living it up in the great outdoors, but it could save your life someday. Don’t worry if you don’t get it right the first time. Great weather predicting comes with experience. With time the subtle cues of your environment will be picked up by your subconscious awareness and you will be predicting without even knowing how. Camping is the perfect environment to sharpen your survival skills of weather prediction. You could even make a game out of it for the whole family. First one to accurately predict the weather is free from dish duty for the day and gets served first every meal.

Methods of Operation

There are several great indicators that help you to predict weather change.


  • The wind can be a very accurate predictor of changing weather. If the wind increases or changes direction, the conditions around you are changing. Be very aware. If the wind changes dramatically than there is usually a great change of weather on the way.

Sun & Moon:

  • “If a circle forms ’round the moon, It will rain soon” This circle or ring around the sun or moon is called a halo. A ring around the sun or moon means that precipitation, usually rain is on the way. The ring is created when tiny ice particles in fine cirrus clouds scatter the light of the moon and the sun in different directions.
  • “Red skies at night, sailor’s delight; red skies at morning, sailors take warning.” This old saying that you have probably heard a time or two has great validity. When the morning sun turns the sky a crimson red, it is often an indication that low pressure is bringing precipitation and a storm is on the way. A red sky at dusk indicates that the next day will most likely be just fine. The sun is just happily shining through the dust particles. Delight in it, as the sailors do.


  • The animals themselves are known to be great meteorologists. Animal behavior can be remarkably accurate in predicting weather, from temperature, precipitation and storms to the severity of the upcoming winter. The American Indians have observed animals for centuries and predicted weather with accuracy based on these observations. Animals are more likely to react to changes in the environment. They pick up on subtleties that we often do not and they sense the movements in air pressure. Movements in air pressure precede all weather changes.
  • Birds flying high in the sky usually indicate a nice, clear day. Most birds tend to fly lower to the ground just before a rain, especially insect-eating birds. This is true especially with the insect-eating birds called swallows. They fly lower because the insects are also flying lower. Insects can only fly as high as the air pressure (barometric pressure) allows them to and the swallows go where ever the food is.
  • Some water birds also fly low across the water when precipitation is on the way.
  • Seagulls are very sensitive to barometric pressure changes. Often seagulls return to land when the air pressure (barometric pressure) drops, signaling stormy weather approaching.
  • Bees and butterflies disappear just before it is going to rain. They sense the drop in barometric (air) pressure and will instinctively seek the cover of their nests and homes.
  • Most animals become very quiet just before it rains.
  • Some Native American tribes say that the snowfall in the upcoming winter is predicted by the snowshoe hare, otherwise known as the varying hare. If the hares leave very wide footprints in the fall, these extra-furry hind feet are a sign of heavy winter snowfalls that are on the way.
  • Another belief of some Native American tribes is that black bears predict severe winter weather by sleeping farther away from the den opening than usual. During fall, prior to a mild winter, the black bear will sleep close to the den opening. I would not go looking for any black bears while camping though, to predict the upcoming winter. It is best to avoid bears if possible, although they rarely attack, at times they do. When pressed, they usually retreat, even with cubs. Remember to keep your food in a safe place back at camp, such as the trunk of your car, to avoid them from visiting your den.
  • The bees come out and get busier when fair to good weather approaches.
  • It is scientifically proven that you can find the temperature by measuring the mating calls of the cricket. To find the temperature:you must first count the number of chirps per minute the cricket makes. Subtract 40 from this number. Divide the result by 4. Add 50. The result of this calculation is very close to the temperature of the environment the cricket is in.

Trees & Flowers:

  • “When leaves turn their back ’tis a sign it’s going to rain.” Many trees, such as maple and oak, have leaves that will curl when the wind is blowing and the humidity is very high. Humidity and high winds precede stormy weather.
  • Flowers do indeed smell best just before a rain. Stormy weather will most likely follow when the flowers seem to be the most fragrant.
  • The scent in the air is a great indicator of approaching precipitation. Plants release their waste in a low pressure atmosphere. This waste has a scent of compost and predicts rain.

Fire Smoke:

  • When smoke rises from a fire and then sinks low to the ground this is usually an indication of a storm front approaching.
  • On a clear day, the smoke from the campfire rises steadily.
  • Campfire smoke that starts swirling and descending is a sign of low pressure. Low pressure (barometric pressure) usually means that a storm or bad weather is usually on the way.


  • One of the easiest and best indicator of a change of weather are the clouds. Clouds give a great deal of information about approaching weather. If there are no clouds in the sky, then the weather is usually fair.

Cloud Classification: Understanding the different kinds of clouds will help you predict weather patterns. Identifying different clouds allows you to read the clouds. They have what you could call a language of their own. It is also a fun camping activity to involve the entire family in cloud identification. Clouds are classified by three things.

#1 Shape

#2 Distance from the earth

#3 Rain-producing

#1 Shape

Cirrus (Latin for “curl of hair”) – These are stringy, fibrous clouds.

  • “Trace in the sky the painter’s brush, The winds around you soon will rush.” Cirrus clouds are what this rhyme is referring to. The clouds are the painter’s brush. Often these high-level ice clouds precede the approach of precipitation.

Cumulus (Latin for “heap”) – These are puffy clouds. Often they look like a fluffy piece of cotton floating in the sky separate from one another. Sometimes these clouds look like a person or an animal.

  • Cumulus clouds show fair weather but keep an eye on them. Any vertical growth in these clouds can indicate a sudden change of weather and the beginning of a storm.

Stratus (Latin for “layer”) – These clouds form long bands and layers that can cover great distances. These clouds are flat and wispy.

#2 Distance from the earth

Cirro – Clouds whose base begins at or above 20,000.

Alto – Clouds whose base begins somewhere between 6,000 and 20,000.

#3 Rain-producing

Nimbo (as a prefix) or nimbus (as a suffix) – Clouds that produce rain.

  • NImbostratus clouds are your standard rain cloud. These clouds look like a large, flat sheet of grey cloud. If you see these clouds there is a good chance that it will rain.

Other indication of changing weather:

  • “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.” There is some validity in this old rhyme. If the grass is dry and free from morning dew, it is likely that there are strong winds and rain is very likely on the way. If there is dew on the grass in the morning it is thought that there will be no rain, unless of course the grass is wet from rain the prior night.
  • “When sounds are clear, rain is near.” This is true because sound travels farther before a storm.

Closing Notes: Camping is a joy in life that creates memories for a lifetime. Whether you are camping with your spouse, your family, your best buds or even solo with the trees, understanding signs and clues to weather changes is both fun and valuable.