To learn how the weather works is actually pretty good to know, for many reasons. Obviously you can know whether to pack a jumper or coat. But learning about our clouds and skies, and how snow and rain and thunder works, makes for an awe and amazement at the natural world. Anyone who has sat under the stars on a dark night and looked up, tends to think more on what our planet is all about, rather than people obsessed with celebrities and TV.
In England, weather is very changeable, more than elsewhere in the world. In theory, England should be as cold as Scandinavia (and it can be in winter, up north). But because we have a warm Gulf Stream, we miss a lot of the very cold weather, and can not only have 4 seasons, but sometimes 4 seasons in one day!
Why TV weather presenters take so long to read the weather is quite the mystery, although most are high qualified. The Met Office is the world expert and can clear up a few mysteries that you may wonder about:
- Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning. This (from the Gospel of Matthew) is true, as red skies appear when high pressure appears from the west, so it’s fine the next day. Red sky next morning means high pressure moved east, so good weather has gone.
- Rain before 7, fine by 11. It may appear that way, but it’s not true. It’s just as our weather changes so much, it’s become an old wives tale.
- When it’s about to rain, cows lie down. There is no proof that cows are sensitive to the moisture in the air. The Met Office says it could just be that the cows are having a rest!
- Pine cones open, when good weather is upon us. This is true. Pine cones open in dry weather due to humidity, then close when it rains.
Books to Learn About Weather
- The Weather Detective is a book by German forestry expert Peter Wohlleben. Combining research with charming anecdotes, a walk in the park will never be the same. Learn how chaffinches are weather prophets, bees can work as thermometers and courgettes tell the time!
- The Secret World of Weather is a landmark book by natural navigator Tristan Gooley, who goes beyond the forecast to change our very idea of what weather is. The weather does not just blanket an area: it changes as you walk through the woods, or turn down a street. You’ll discover distinct microclimates on opposite sides of a tree – and even beneath a blade of grass. By reading the weather, we begin to understand how it shapes our cities, woods and hills. You’ll never see your surroundings the same way.
- Weather for Hillwalkers helps you understand the principles of the causes of wind, rain, snow, cloud, fog, thunder and clear skies (and how they are affected by mountains and high ground). Read this book, and you’ll know what people are talking about, when they mention depressions, warm and cold fronts and air masses. You’ll also learn how to make a short-term weather forecast.
- Angry Weather is by a pioneering scientist, asking whether massive fires, widespread floods and hurricanes are ‘acts of God’ or caused by climate change. Friederike Otto believes that Hurricane Harvey (which caused over 100 deaths in 2017) was 3 times more likely, due to human activities.
Gavin’s Great Books on Clouds
Gavin’s great books on clouds are by England’s top expert. Gavin Pretor-Pinney explains all about these tiny drops of water that rise with warm air to form clouds (they appear white, due to reflecting light from the sun – which is why they are grey before it rains) have fascinated people throughout history. Fog is simply ‘clouds on the ground’. And did you know that clouds on Jupiter and Saturn are made of ammonia?
After studying at Oxford University, Gavin founded the Cloud Appreciation Society, which has its own manifesto (below) on the beauty and importance of clouds. And consider it’s always raining in England and we all love to look up at clouds, it’s no surprise he’s one of our best-selling writers. He is author of a few books on clouds:
- A Cloud A Day is a beautifully illustrated guide featuring 365 skies selected by members of the Cloud Appreciation Society, with photos by sky enthusiasts, satellite images and photographs of clouds in space, as well as skies from great artists over the centuries. Includes poems about clouds.
- Cloud Spotter is a set of of 50 cards. You can carry them around with you, then pause and look up at the sky, when you want to know more. Not just for knowledge, but an ideal ‘mindful break’ to stop off from our modern busy world. Do you know your cirrostratus from your cumulonimbus? How long do you spend with your head in the clouds?
- A Cloud a Day Journal is an interactive journal for readers to take time each day, to look at the shifting skies. Take a moment and use the prompts and space in the journal to record the cloud, weather and thoughts for the day. The book includes a fun pin wheel device at the back to visually match the cloud you see in the sky, with the cloud on the selector. Includes stunning images of clouds and poetry.
Cloud Appreciation Society’s Manifesto
WE BELIEVE that clouds are unjustly maligned and that life would be immeasurably poorer without them.
We think that they are Nature’s poetry, and the most egalitarian of her displays, since everyone can have a fantastic view of them.
We pledge to fight ‘blue-sky thinking’
Life would be dull if we had to look up at cloudless monotony
Clouds are expressions of the atmosphere’s moods, and can be read like a person’s countenance.
We believe that clouds are for dreamers and their contemplation benefits the soul. Indeed, all who consider the shapes they see in them will save money on therapy.
And so we say to all who’ll listen: Look up, marvel at the ephemeral beauty, and always remember to live life with your head in the clouds!
All You Want to Know About Rain
In England, it rains all the time! However, we don’t get nearly as much as some places on earth. In Maghalaya in India, they get around 10 times more rain than us, near the bay of Bengal.
Here we don’t get torrential rain like that, but we do get floods. This is increasingly thought to be due to governments and businesses chopping down trees, and not investing properly in modern inventions. Beavers are also good at building dams (that’s what they do).
Another way to prevent floods, is for people to stop grouse shoots. This is because the land is flattened to attract these wild birds that eat the heather, so that people can shoot them for fun and profit. Another way to avoid floods is to not buy peat. Again, taking it away from nature flattens the land (the rough peat helps to absorb water).
Where do you think the wettest part of England is? If you thought the Lake District, you would be right. The driest areas are London and Clacton-On-Sea (in Essex).
- What Does Rain Smell Like? is by two highly qualified meteorologists and answers 100 questions including why rain doesn’t fall all at once, why the sky is blue, what weather is like on other planets, and how rainbows are formed.
- Rain: Four Walks in English Weather is a meditation on the local landscape in wet weather, by nature writer Melissa Harrison. Whenever rain falls, our countryside changes. Fields, farms, hills and hedgerows appear altered, the wildlife behaves differently and the terrain itself over time is transformed. Melissa follows the course of four rain seasons in four seasons: across Wicken Fen, Shropshire, the Darent Valley and Dartmoor.
The Little Book of Scottish Rain meets our friends over the border, where they have even more rain than us. Meet all 50 words for rain they have, with whimsical illustrations.
Use Rain & Wind to Find Your Way
Use nature’s signs to find your way, with the help of natural navigator Tristan Gooley. He can get you anywhere, by looking at which ways the trees are blowing, looking up to the sky, tracking wildlife prints, or looking at a puddle! He is the author of several books, here are just a few (you can also take his course online).
- The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs shows how to read the clues in the natural world. The roots of a tree indicate the sun’s direction and a passing butterfly can hint at the weather. A sand dune reveals prevailing wind, and the scent of cinnamon suggests altitude. Tristan shares over 850 tips for forecasting and learning more about the natural world, to help you walk in the country or city, along a coast or by night. The ultimate resource on what the land, sun, moon, stars, plants, animals and clouds can reveal – if you only know how to look. on, stars, plants, animals, and clouds can reveal-if you only know how to look!
- How to Read Water is also by Tristan. He can show you over 700 clues, signs and patterns to spot dangerous water in the pitch black (with the help of a clock face), forecast the weather from waves, decipher wave patterns on beaches and find your way with puddles.
- The Natural Navigator is the 10th anniversary edition of this popular book. Tristan blends natural science, myth, folklore and a history of travel to show how to find your way using nature, from the feel of a rock to the look of the moon. Find north by looking at a puddle and use natural signs to navigate the open ocean or in the heart of the city. Packed with beautiful illustrations for an instrument-free journey of fascinating stories.
Where to Find Sustainable Raincoats
Would you like to know where to find sustainable raincoats? It rains a lot, so nearly everyone has a raincoat. But did you know that most conventional raincoats of quality are covered with toxic sprays? When time comes to replace, here are more sustainable options.
Thought Organic Cotton Callie Mac is made from a heavyweight but super-soft organic cotton twill, with full lining to protect against spring showers. Falling just below the knee, this timeless mac has flattering pleat detail at the back, and slightly blouson sleeves. It has been designed to be over-sized but with a classic double-breasted silhouette and a removeable tie belt, for an adjustable fit. It has deep side pockets, handy for keeping your phone or keys in, when out for a walk. Packed in a biodegradable polybag.
Organic cotton is far better for the planet and wildlife, and is also nicer for farmers, as they can pick the cotton, without need to wear protective clothing in very hot weather. Around a quarter of the world’s agricultural chemicals are used to make cotton, so try to find organic or recycled cotton garments, rather than new. Unlike synthetic fibres, cotton is safe to launder without breaking off microplastics into the ocean, and safely biodegrades.
Many eco raincoats are made from recycled plastic bottles. Is this safe, considering plastic has hormone disruptors? Obviously you don’t want to use for clothing next to a child’s skin (and definitely not for baby clothing). But raincoats are not touching our skin, and they do keep out the rain. Organic cotton raincoats are great.
Are Recycled Plastic Raincoats Safe?
Many eco raincoats used up recycled plastic bottles, as this material is waterproof. Is it safe? Dr Martin Mulvihill (a chemist) says that it takes 38 days of a water bottle being heated to reach unsafe levels for water you ingest (not fabric on your skin). So he says unless you are working out in 150 degrees, wearing recycled plastic clothing is not likely to be a problem. Be concerned about the finish (used to stop wrinkling). However always wash recycled plastic clothing (and synthetic materials) in a microfiber catch bag, to stop microplastics breaking off in the machine.
- Nomads Clothing offers organic cotton raincoats, made with 90% biodegradable materials and a water-resistant organic cotton canvas outer and soft viscose lining. The simple flattering silhouette has practical pockets, a removable hood and drawcord-adjustable waist.
- Thought offers quality organic raincoats, with no toxic coatings.
- Seasalt (Cornwall) offers fully waterproof raincoats, made from an eco-friendly alternative to oilskin. Tested in Cornish windy rain, you will however have to ‘read the ingredients’ of each, as a few have leather trim, and there is no filter.
Sustainable Raincoats for Children
Wash these recycled plastic coats in a microfiber catch bag, to stop microplastics breaking off in the machine. Keep away from direct heat sources, like radiators.
- Frugi (Cornwall) has its own line of bright fun rainwear, made from recycled plastic bottles, along with matching waterproof trousers and rubber wellies, In various designs from sunflower to unicorn puddles to Loch Blue Nessie! These coats are designed to protect against the elements with a chin chard, storm placket and elasticated cuffs, and have reflective print details (and a dipped hem to keep bottoms warm and dry). There’s even a label to write your little one’s name on.
- Billycoats & Raincoats make children’s raincoats from old tents! Discarded tens at festivals are a real problem in England. With designs inspired by the Brecon Beacons, these are lightweight and bright with chunky YKK zippers (plastic) and deep pockets for snacks and finds. For ages 2 to 9, with free repairs in the first year.
Choose a Recycled Umbrella
This recycled plastic ‘London’ umbrella is made from plastic bottles, with a sturdy bamboo handle. The fun design in bright colours, quickly folds away into its own protect bag, with wrist strap. This design helps to remove plastic from our waste system, and a portion of proceeds helps Marine Conservation Society, a charity that protects our oceans.
All You Want to Know about Snow
This post features all you want to know about snow. We have quite a bit of snow in England (it’s the warm Gulf Stream that stops us having guaranteed winter snow, like Scandinavia). And although it snows more in January and February in England, we do have more than 50% chance of it snowing on Christmas Day.
- Snow is not white. It’s translucent, and takes an hour to fall from the clouds where it absorbs reflections (it can be black if polluted or even pink from algae). Freshly fallen snow absorbs sound waves, which is why it’s quiet.
- Some people go a bit crazy from snow (thought to be a vitamin D deficiency). They get ‘Arctic hysteria’ where they talk meaningless rubbish, then have no recollection of what they said previously (mmm, sounds like a few of our MPs!)
- Intuits (people from Greenland) have 50 words for snow. and Scots have even more, including skelf (large snowflake) and unbreak (beginning of a thaw). North Wales holds the record for the most snow in the UK – in the 40s, the drift was as deep as a very tall man! The snowiest places in England are Co Durham and the North Pennines.
- Tristan Gooley is England’s expert on navigation, and has lots of info at his website, if you’re an intrepid traveller. He can teach you how to navigate using snow strips.
Keeping safe in snow & ice
This is important, especially for older people. England has quite harsh weather in autumn and winter, and we do have a lot of sleet and snow. And our pavements are not always the best-maintained. So what can you do to keep safe in the snow and ice, without resorting to harsh pavement chemicals and rock salt, which is toxic to pets and wildlife?
- Don’t use rock salt outside, as when pets go indoors, the salt heats up to give paw burns. Use a shovel to clear snow, and hose paws before pets go indoors, to remove any rock salt. EcoGrit (cereal waste) is an alternative, they also suggest straw or sand. Paved areas are generally safer for pets, as stones and gravel can get stuck in paws (keeping nails trimmed helps). And if these items are covered in snow or ice, they could be accidentally swallowed. See more tips to make your garden safe for pets.
- In Scandinavia, people use heated driveways to avoid them icing up in the first place. They are expensive to install, but for large and public buildings, they prevent the need to use salt or any product, which also falls down storm drains and into our rivers and seas. They are also more or less maintenance free, once installed.
- Wear layers, rather than one large jumper. This way you can add and remove layers, if you get too cold or hot. Old dogs may benefit from a well-fitted dog coat, although some dislike wearing them. You’ll know.
- Ensure your car is safe, before embarking on a journey. Obvious checks include tyres and breaks. Autoglass suggests that parking your car to face east the night before, helps to prevent frosty windows the next day (because the early sun rises in the east). Another tip of theirs is to rub half an onion on the windscreen, the oils prevent it getting icy, so you don’t have to scrape or use toxic sprays the next day. Or simply use the wipers to cover the screen with an old car or bath mat, if you don’t have a garage.
Preventing Falls in Snow & Ice
Thousands of people are admitted to hospital each year, after falling on snow or ice. If you know someone who is vulnerable or elderly, offer to shop for them for daily essentials. If you are clearing snow and ice from someone’s door, move it when the snow is fresh. If you add water, it could re-freeze and turn into black ice, which is more dangerous.
If you are out in the snow and ice, learn how to walk like a penguin. This can help to prevent falls (the third leading cause of accidental death). You’ll look silly, but be safer.
- Put your arms out to each side (like on a tightrope). Don’t put hands in pockets.
- Now point your feet out like a penguin (or ballet dancer), bend your knees and walk in small shuffle steps, to balance your gravity.
- If you start to fall back, tuck in your chin (so your head doesn’t hit the ground). Just like when a drunk person falls, if your muscles are relaxed, you will be less likely injured. Wearing a thick coat also helps to cushion the fall. If someone you know has balance problems (like Parkinson’s), it may be worth investing in some hip protectors for when they are out in cold weather, as they could prevent broken bones, if they do fall.
- Yaktrax® Ice Grips attach to the bottom of your feet, a lightweight alternative to snow chains. They grip the floor, but they are only to use on packed snow and ice. Don’t use for black or slushy ice, driving or cycling, or indoors (you’ll damage the floor). They have coils that compress into the snow, so are not good for sanded areas or on slippery mud, gravel or concrete. The sizing is a bit different, so check before purchase.
- It’s too cold to snow. Myth. Cold air holds less moisture, but it can hold some. If you’ve visited Scandinavia, you know that it is not too cold to snow!
Creatures that Love the Snow
There are many animals that love the snow. A lot of wildlife positively thrive in it. Because it traps air, snow actually is a good insulator, so many animal (like polar bears) like to use packed snow as dens, to protect their young.
- Snow Leopard is a book about one of the world’s most beautiful creatures who lives in the Himalayas, in its harsh environment and how it looks after its young. Their paws act like snowshoes.
- Arctic foxes can’t wait for snowflakes to fall.
- Penguins have quite a hard life. They don’t have fur on their feet, to help regulate temperature. But after breeding, they spend most time huddled together to keep warm.
- Macaque monkeys (those red-faced monkeys in hot Japanese springs) love to make snowballs and steal them from each other, in play.
- It’s now believed that the Yeti in the Himalayas is simply different people seeing 3 various bears.
- Polar bears keep their cubs safe in underground dens, and go without food themselves for several months sometimes. Global warming is causing ice to melt.
Simple solutions to stop flooding do exist, and you would be surprised how simple they are, it just requires a few changes to government policy. The problem is that only a few people really own most land, so policy never changes to what is needed, it just is obsessed with keeping the status quo, to benefit the few.
Of course, climate change is causing freak weather, but also lack of trees does not help, as trees soak up water. Recently the government tried to sell off the remaining forests to industry and only a petition by 38 Degrees stopped it, otherwise we would have even worse problems.
Flooding does not just cause people to lose their homes, but also results in unsafe electrics, harm to people and wildlife and pets, and huge insurance costs. Then often people move in, and it floods again. Caroline Lucas said that people don’t want Boris Johnson turning up to offer help with a mop, they want policy changes to prevent floods. Likewise, Royal visits by those who go grouse-shooting (see below) would be better served by not grouse-shooting (which helps to cause the floods in the first place).
- The Superpower Field Guide to Beavers is a fun book introducing us to one of nature’s super-heroes. Beavers love to build dams, and are at the forefront of helping us to prevent floods. This colour book doles out facts with humour, to have everyone falling in love.
- One big cause of floods is removing peat bogs, in order to grow heather that attracts wild grouse, for shooting parties. Former RSPB director Mark Avery says grouse shoots also endanger other wildlife (mountain hares are killed as they carry mites that affect grouse. And it’s suspected that endangered hen harriers are also shot, due to being natural predators of grouse (report to Wildlife Crime Unit). Read his book Inglorious: Conflict In the Uplands.
- Floodsax sandless bags fill with water to make instant sandbags. They require no heavy lifting, can mould to shape doors, and are easily disposed of, without pollution. One Yorkshire warehouse prevented £360K of damage.