Nature’s Wind Vane

Folk weather forecasting has been around as long as there have been folk to scry the signs. My grandmother depended on rain ravens; my grandfather preferred caterpillars.

Non-believers tend to poke fun at such convictions, and their amusement may have contributed to the fad known as ‘weather rocks.’  A staple of my childhood, weather rocks offered tongue-in-cheek forecasts: wet rocks indicated rain, dry rocks meant sunshine. Fog meant an invisible rock, and if the rock was gone? A tornado had passed by.

Decades later, I discovered Cajun rope barometers. The object may differ, but the same principles apply.

Like that rope, the Spanish moss draping the oaks at a neighborhood nature center serves as a fine weather indicator, particularly when it comes to wind. On Saturday afternoon, in the calm preceding tropical storm Beta, it hung motionless toward the ground.

Eventually, it began to stir, indicating both the direction and speed of the wind.

Two hours later, swirling winds had taken hold, bringing clouds and, at last, rain.

Comments always are welcome.

74 thoughts on “Nature’s Wind Vane

  1. I hope you stay safe! I enjoyed this post. Hanging Spanish Moss makes a great way to measure the direction of the wind!

    1. The biggest problem with this one is the storm surge, which has closed a variety of coastal roads and the Galveston ferry, as well as taking out a portion of a favorite fishing pier in Galveston last night.But away from the coast, it appears we’ll have minimal effects — apart from some welcome rain.

  2. What a cool and breezy morning Linda. The Space City guys are trying to calm the nerves of the area about the threat Beta poses… They aren’t succeeding with my wife as she headed off to work this morning. Schools in Alvin have closed, both virtually and in reality. .

    1. It really is nice, although the humidity seems to be creeping up again. This clearly isn’t Harvey. Eric put up a side-by-side of the radars last night, and it would take a whole lot of historic intensifying for us to suffer what Harvey wrought. It does make sense to close schools in the coastal districts; Bolivar and the Blue Water Highway are a mess, not to mention all the usual spots like Harborside and Todville. Even areas around the lake, like Clear Lake Shores, are seeing rising water, but at least the projected rain totals are down. No varnishing today, that’s for sure.

  3. I’ve been thinking good thoughts your way, Linda, especially after watching The Weather Channel, which predicts Beta will make landfall near your area. They interviewed a guy who said it’s important to watch the birds: if they take off, you’d better, too! Sounds like that might be as practical advice as looking at a rope, ha! Seriously, stay safe — it’s been a wicked year for storms.

    1. My feeders are full of finches and doves, the hummingbirds are at the feeder, and there’s a yellow-crowned night heron wading around in my front yard, so I think we’re good. We’re getting rain, but little wind, and I suspect in a day this will be over — apart from cleaning up after the flooding.

      It is true that birds leave before a hurricane, but we didn’t get close to hurricane status this time. I do remember how weird it was after Ike to have nary a bird for weeks. Of course, evacuation’s pretty easy for them, so I don’t blame them for getting out of town!

  4. I hope all is and will be well with you.
    I’ve seen “barometers” like the Cajun one before, at tourist destinations allover germany and Austria, when I was a child. They had donkeys on them, btw, and the donkey’s tail was the “barometer”.

    1. That’s hilarious, Pit! And, it makes sense. It would be interesting to know all the variations of the weather rock that exist around the world. I suspect there might be other creative ones, although your donkey tail’s the best I’ve heard of.

    1. We’ve not had much wind at all, and we’re grateful for the rain. There’s been some damage at the coast because of surge and flooding, but it could have been much worse. The storm’s nearly onshore now; they say we’ll have rain for a couple of days, and then — a cool front! I do have the AC off and the windows open now — it’s so, so nice.

  5. From what you say, your grandmother was a rain raven maven—but not, we assume, a craven rain raven maven.

    That Cajun rope barometer is funny.

    You did well in catching the Spanish moss as it blew. It reminds me of the Aleutian Islands on a map.

    1. In truth, Grandma may have been the least craven person I’ve known — even though, as a child, I didn’t realize it. In truth, I still take rain ravens seriously; they seem to announce weather changes as accurately as the arrival of the ospreys signals the change to autumn and winter. The ospreys arrived last Thursday and Friday, riding the northerlies in the upper atmosphere, so it won’t be long until real autumn arrives.

      The Aleutian Islands is a great comparison. Pit mentioned that in Germany and Austria, their version of the ‘weather rock’ is a donkey, and its tail tells the meteorological tale.

    1. Birds do disappear before a serious storm. For this one, they’ve been sheltering as they would for any summer thunderstorm or winter front, but before a couple of our hurricanes, they put on their traveling shoes — or feathers — and boogied out of town. After Ike, it took a long time for the birds, the insects, the fish, and who knows what else to come back. But they did, and having them back made recovery easier.

    1. I think I have a vague memory of you mentioning that stick before. I can’t quite remember how it works; it’s not exactly a dowsing rod, but something like it. Does it go up for rain, and down for dry? What a neat thing to have!

    1. Aren’t they great? Most of the time I can’t get a decent photo of Spanish moss, just because it’s so thick and tangled. But in this case? There it was, and there I was, and fun was had!

  6. The profundity of all of this makes me wonder where my education went awry! But birds have feathers called filoplumes which can detect changes in atmospheric pressure which clues them in to move out before a hurricane moves in. So, if in doubt – follow the birds. Or better still, move somewhere where they don’t have hurricanes!

    1. I’d never heard of — or read about — filoplumes. Very interesting! I learned a good bit about other kinds of feathers while reading about them, and added a couple of words to my vocabulary in the process. I’ve watched birds leave before storms for years, and knew they had to have some ‘sixth sense’. It’s yet another reason to pay attention to nature.

  7. The weather rock reminds me of the “rain rock” they hang in San Antonio at NIOSA (Night in Old San Antonio) during Fiesta. The rock is hung to keep rain away during the festival. Of course, keeping rain away in San Antonio is often an easy job – we’re usually praying for a little rain to keep the aquifer healthy.

    Good luck with the storm surge. I suspect a lot of folks are adjusting the lines on their boats so they’ll rise with the tide.

    1. I’ve never heard of that San Antonio rock tradition, but it sure made me laugh when I read about the tradition’s history. An article about Fiesta said that in the 1800s, during cattle drives, if the weather seemed ready to turn, the cowboys would hang a limestone rock with a hole in it on a tree or shrub. Supposedly, that would keep the rain away, and prevent stampedes.

      Here’s what made me laugh. When I first started going up to Kerrville, the old fellow who let Retardo the deer roam his property spent an afternoon riding the fences with me. Every now and then he’d pick up a limestone rock with a hole in it, and hang it on a tree. When I asked why, he said it was for luck, and that if I hung rocks myself, I’d always have good weather when I came up.

      I hung those darned rocks every time I made the trip, and I still have a few of them here at home. Of course they didn’t always keep the rain away, but hanging them was a lot of fun.

  8. The Cajun rope and rock makes sense to me. My father would say, call in the dog and see if he is wet. Way back we did not have 24 hour weather and he could come in at noon to listen to the weather report on the radio.

    Looking to nature for clues makes sense too. The Spanish moss makes a beautiful weather indicator. Stay safe where you are. OK here with some rain and storm surges on the low areas. The USS Lexington on North Beach is closed today because of flooding there.

    1. Your father was a wise man. Sometimes the simplest approaches are the best. In this time of charts and models and graphs, I don’t often say so, but… I’d put my short-term weather forecasting skills up against any tv or radio person. Thirty some years of weather watching builds a little confidence.

      It’s been almost placid around here. Things have been rough on the coast because of the wind-driven tides and surge, and now the rain’s picking up — we’ve had about five inches, and some street flooding’s occurring. Still, it’s no Harvey: thank goodness.

    1. No twisting tonight. I suspect it’s just hanging, damp and drippy, in our rain. We’re getting plenty of that, but there’s little wind. It’s actually quite nice to be listening to rain for once; we can use it.

    1. I kept waiting to see if the wind would flip the moss all the way up into the branches, letting it form a circle. Of course that brought to mind Cirque du Soleil, and their wonderful “Alegria”. I haven’t thought of that in ages, so thanks for reminding me!

    1. All’s well, indeed. There are some battered docks and fishing piers, and it’s going to take a bit of effort to clean up the roads and near-shore properties, but no one that I know of has suffered from power outages or real transportation difficulties. If people can refrain from driving into flooded roadways, we’ll be just fine.

    1. You laugh, but that’s more true than a lot of people would think! We’re counting down the days, and every one that goes by brings us closer to a first real cold front: a strong one, if you please!

  9. I love this! (You do know that the end of the 61st pier is now a tourist attraction as it abandoned it’s quest to float to Cuba and beached around 69th street. Photo op as the storm comes in! (along with the pix of the cute red-haired girl who obviously wasn’t a surfer dragging a board out into the waves this morning..I’m on vacation, gosh darn it!?) So Texas haha

    1. I saw the SaltwaterRecon camera’s capture of the great breakup last night. Things aren’t so good down at Surfside, either. What’s really interesting is the pile of ships anchored offshore. With the port closed, all they can do is wait — and give thanks that conditions aren’t any worse than they are.

      Here’s an interesting tidbit. One of the boats I just finished working on — over at Portofino — is reporting on the marine traffic site as being underway at 3 kts. His slip is right at the channel entrance; I suspect that’s either the speed of the tide at the Clear Creek channel or an instrument error. During Harvey, river otters showed up on the dock next to his boat. I suspect they were ready for a rest.

  10. Angry flies buzzing about brings storm and rain. This was one of the favourites in weather forecasting. When living on the farm we had summer days that the flies were impossible and in such great numbers the only solution was to wear netting around the head. Tourists are often seduced by ads showing outside settings with people sitting, glass of wine in hand, watching the sun go down on Uluru.
    The time I was there the Japanese tourists would get outside the buses and quickly hop back in again. The flies were impossible and no rain in sight. No tables with wine either.

    1. Our mosquitos can be that bad, as well as a tiny, nearly invisible fly known (appropriately enough) as ‘no-see-ums.’ The gap between what the tourist bureaus promise and what’s actually encountered can be considerable. Of course it’s not always false advertising; it’s just that the presence or absence of natural annoyances can be darned hard to predict.

      It’s so odd — there’s just one spot at the Brazoria refuge where year in and year out I’m forced back to the car by some sort of biting fly. I’ve not found any repellant that actually repels it, and the bite is painful — yet I only encounter it in a hundred yard area. One of my favorite flowers grows in the spot; it may be just my luck that the flies like that particular flower, as well.

  11. I can never resist taking photos of the weather rocks, Linda. Kind of like the Farmer’s Almanac. Laugh all you want, but there is a grain of truth! Now you really need to worry when that Spanish moss is straight out! Hope you are safe or not washed away. Looks like it will be one very wet rock. –Curt

    1. Of course there’s truth to many of these older beliefs — and more than a grain in some cases. Take the rain ravens, for instance. When the atmosphere is stirring ahead of a storm, the birds often take to the skies and ride the currents, calling to each other. There’s no question they feel the coming weather, just like a cat or a dog.

      There are a lot of wet rocks around here tonight; the rain has finally arrived, and we’re under a flash flood advisory for two or three more hours. One problem is that, with such high tides, the bayous can’t drain. Once the storm moves away and the water stops piling up against the coast, things should improve pretty rapidly.

      1. It’s fascinating what animals know, Linda. Maybe even more so how they know it. We have a lot to learn. As for storm surges, they certainly have become part of our weather language. Given how close you are to sea level, I suspect they are quite a concern. –Curt

        1. Indeed. It’s a fine balance among tides, rainfall, and surge. If there’s a lot of rain but the tides are low and there’s no surge from offshore, the rivers can drain. If there’s only some rain, but we have a spring tide and heavy surge, everything backs up because the bays and bayous can’t drain — and so on and so forth.

  12. I really enjoyed how you described the onset of a storm and the barometers! Stay safe, fantastic pictures, rope gone hit home! Good to know you’ll get rain, not too much

    1. I’m having quite a nice time listening to the rain tonight. It’s been a while since we’ve had a steady rain, and even though we may end up with a little more than we need, no one’s ready to refuse it. It will be interesting to see if my “weather gauge” survives this. I don’t think we’ve had enough wind to take it down, but the weight of the water collecting on it might.

    1. Thank you, Lavinia. We’re finally having some heavy rains, but there haven’t been any tornadoes, or even thunder and lightning. For a tropical storm, Beta has been very well behaved, and we’re all grateful.

  13. There are windy days here when we have what I refer to as a “small child alert” — if your child weighs less than 30 lbs belay them to something heavy like a car before you let them outside, else you’ll have to drive to one of several outlying towns (depending on the wind direction) to hunt them down.

    1. If there weren’t some truth to that, I wouldn’t be laughing. On the other hand, I’ve always wondered about news reporters who go out to do standups from the heart of precisely the sort of conditions they’re warning other to avoid. There have been times I’d have been more than willing to let some of them blow away. Whoosh!

    1. I’m not sure I’d agree that Nature knows more than we do, but we certainly do ‘know’ differently. We humans could profit greatly by paying attention to the wisdom Nature’s willing to impart, and the lessons she teaches.

  14. It’s a fine thing, these days, to see what direction the wind blows. To see if there are blowhards about, if they’re going to rain on our parade, or befog the subject. The Spanish Moss makes a fine indicator, weather or not you believe in such things.

  15. I came across a weather rock in Germany for the first time a few years back. Not sure if they weren’t around when I was growing up, or whether I didn’t pay attention (more likely). As simplistic as rock or rope weather forecast systems are, they basically don’t lie.

    1. That’s interesting. Another German mentioned that they can be found in both Germany and Austria. He added that they have donkey ‘weather indicators,’ too. The donkey’s tail serves the same purpose as the rope or the rock. I’ve been thinking about your comment that such indicators don’t lie. That’s true when it comes to current conditions, but I’m not sure how they’d do if I wanted to know about day after tomorrow!

    1. I’m really fond of Spanish moss. For me, it recalls visits to a great-aunt in Baton Rouge, where we kids slept on mattresses stuffed with it. You have to be careful about how you gather and treat it though. There are a lot of things running around in it. A friend in Louisiana told me the trick is never to take any that’s touched the ground. Granted, there may be other creepy crawlies in it, but at least if it hasn’t been on the ground, there are fewer chiggers and ants.

      1. Yup. When you settle down for the night about the last thing you want is something crawling on your cheek. Sleeping with Bentley that is always a worry but so far I think he’s only given me one tick.

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