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How animals predict weather

FORGET THE GROUNDHOG, KEEP A CLOSE EYE ON YOUR PETS AND WILDLIFE.


Story by Bailey Gilliam

Weather can be unpredictable here in the Lowcountry, but luckily we live alongside some of the best weather forecasters. And no, we aren’t talking about the weatherman. The notion that animals can predict weather conditions isn’t new. There are countless proverbs on the subject dating back centuries ago. “When cattle lie down in the pasture, it indicates early rain” is just one popular adage picked up by the farmer’s almanac. While most of us don’t own cows, pets and local wildlife can give us clues about what weather will come. Experts believe that animals are acutely perceptive of minute changes in the environment like barometric pressure, seasonality and humidity. They also have heightened senses, which may account for their supposed weather-predicting abilities and changes in behavior before a storm. They can feel, hear and smell environmental changes that humans cannot. It might be time to turn off the television and look to your dog for the most accurate forecast.


And your little dog too

There are countless stories of dogs alerting their owners of the impending danger associated with inclement weather. Behavioral changes such as growling, barking, whining, guarding, cowering, alertness, panting, stiffening hair or hiding in unusual places are some of the signs to look for. Dogs may exhibit strange behavior when they sense environmental and atmospheric changes such as a drop in pressure or the electricity in the air before a storm.

Dogs have a much better sense of smell than humans, so they can smell an incoming thunderstorm before it hits. With this heightened olfactory ability, they can tell when there’s a change in barometric pressure, which changes with different weather patterns. They know when the pressure changes because scents will either travel faster or slower, depending on the pressure.

Not only can dogs sense a change in pressure, but they can also sense a changing electric field. With an approaching thunderstorm, electric charges shift- and your dog knows when this occurs. So if your dog is looking to seek shelter or acting stranger than usual, there is a good chance that the weather is about to change.


Catcalling

Just like dogs, cats can also detect falling atmospheric pressure due to their heightened senses. And with heightened hearing, cats can hear the rumble of thunder that is still far away. Experts also believe they can probably smell the metallic odor in the atmosphere right before a storm. Cats also may be able to smell the distinct scent of rain itself. Cats may exhibit similar changes in behavior to dogs. Excessive meowing, raised hair and hiding could be signs of bad weather.


Frog rain

Have you ever heard that frogs croak loudly when it’s about to rain? These tiny amphibians are susceptible to atmospheric and climate changes such as global warming. Since frogs need water to live and lay their eggs, they prefer reproducing right after the rain. So frogs actually do croak more loudly to mate right before the rain. Post rain reproduction is more successful. Listen up for the frog forecast because male frogs will start croaking with more gusto before it rains to attract their mates.


The predictions of Mr. Toad

Toads might literally be able to predict natural disasters. In 2009, five days before the devastating earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy, struck, a colony of toads in a nearby pond started disappearing in droves. They returned a few days after the tremor. While experts are unsure how the toads sensed the oncoming disaster, they think it has to do with changes in the earth’s magnetic field and the amount of radon gas present in the groundwater.


Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home

It’s pretty obvious that bugs tend to make their way into our homes before cold weather to increase their chances of survival. But some bugs can help us predict more than changing seasons. There is a saying that goes, “When ladybugs swarm, expect a day that’s warm.” Warmer temperatures bring these beetles out of hiding. You may spot these spotted bugs flying around your garden. Ladybugs also notice drops in temperature, which indicate heavy rain showers. If you notice them hiding underneath tree bark or notice a sudden absence, you may want to grab an umbrella.


Hearing crickets

Who needs a thermometer when you have crickets around? Just count the number of times a cricket chirps in 14 seconds and add 40. The total indicates the current temperature in Fahrenheit. Take a few measurements and then use the average to determine the temperature. Chirp speed is a solid and free local temperature gauge.


Antsy

Ants can sense changes in the atmosphere with their incredibly sensitive antennae, and they also can detect minute chemical signatures in the air. Since there’s a lack of reliable scientific data proving this alleged weather-sensing ability, there’s no way to tell for sure if ants can sense bad weather or not. However, some ants will create levees by surrounding their nests with large earthen walls about 24 hours before a heavy rainstorm to divert water away and prevent their colony from flooding. During floods fire ants survive by joining together in a ball, which can float on the water’s surface for days or even weeks. Check ant nests for preventative levees to determine if you should expect rain.


Swim with sharks

Scientists proved that sharks were able to predict weather by observing and tracking a small population in 2001 when Hurricane Gabrielle was about to hit. Just before the hurricane hit, blacktip sharks in Florida responded to falling barometric pressure caused by the storm. The group of sharks swam into much deeper water than usual to ensure better protection. While we may not be able to see just how deep the sharks around us are swimming, perhaps a lack of shark activity on the boat might predict the weather in some way.


Early bird

There are a few bird behaviors that can forecast weather changes. Birds tend to fly low when a storm is coming and higher in good weather due to changes in air pressure. Birds also seem to know when to evacuate an area before inclement weather arrives. Studies hypothesize that birds hear infrasound from an approaching storm system before it’s visible. This capability also helps birds determine migration patterns since they can identify weather patterns in advance. If you see sudden migrations, many birds perching on power lines or seagulls flying in from the coast, it usually means that a rainstorm is coming.


TIPS FOR NERVOUS PETS WHEN IT’S RAINING CATS AND DOGS

• Provide a safe place: Place their crate or bed in the most sound-proof room of your home.
• Minimize the storm: Shut the blinds and compete with the noise by utilizing a radio or white-noise machine.
• Offer distractions: Offer a positive stimulus, such as gentle petting, an occasional treat or a game with their favorite toy to distract and calm your pet.
• Keep your pet company – but not too much: Try to be home or have someone stay with your pet during the storm, but be sure not to overdo the affection because the change in routine may negatively affect their anxiety levels.
• Desensitize your pet: Try to gradually desensitize them to the sound of storms by utilizing a thunderstorm sound CD.
• Calming remedies: A thunder jacket, Bach flower extracts, lavender oil and pheromones can promote relaxation.