Forecasting the Weather

The work of the UK Met. Office enables us to have the most accurate weather forecasts possible, and technological advancements mean that we can view these forecasts at any time of day or night. But before the establishment of the Met. Office (1854, when an experimental government department which was later to become the Met. Office was set up) and weather forecasts in the media (1st August 1861 was the first issue of The Times to include a weather forecast), what did people do? How did they plan and prepare for tomorrow’s weather?

Almanacs hold a wealth of information and help for their readers on ‘all things meteorological’. Among them are lists of meteorological ‘signs’; signs of things to come. The three pages below contain lists under the headings ‘Signs of Fair Weather’, ‘Signs of Rain’ and ‘Signs of Wind and Storm’. Some are familiar; “4. When the Sun sets red, fair weather or frost” is similar to the popular saying ‘Red Sky at Night, Shepherd’s Delight’. Others are not so familiar; “14. Magpies screaming”, “23. Weary flies and midges” and “27. Arthritis in the elderly and corns on your toes” are all signs of rain.  Signs of stormy weather include “8. Fire burning dark and hissing”, “9. Ravens clapping their wings” and “11. Pigs crying more than usual”.

Weather Signs from John Harries’ Almanac (Carmarthen) for the year 1791, held at the National Library of Wales (all pages can be viewed at:

 Even with today’s forecasting capabilities, do we still use ‘signs’ for the weather? Do we still take a glimpse at how bright the stars are shining (sign of frost), how quickly the clouds are moving (sign of wind) or how busy the spiders are (sign of rain)? In the same way, is it the weatherman that tells us about a period of extreme weather, or do we still see the signs? Surely we all knew of the extreme wetness of the 2012 summer before the Met. Office’s official announcement (… but how? What were the signs?

I noticed how my raincoat never left my side, the fact that I barely had to water my garden plants, and that so many summer events had been cancelled – from horse races to agricultural shows. I didn’t, however, notice any of the signs of rain from the 1791 Almanac!

How did you know that we’ve just experienced the wettest summer since 1912?

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