Reading The Skies – An Essential Post-Apocalyptic Survival Skill

29 Jul

How do you find out what the weather’s going to be like later today, or tomorrow, or even the day after that? Most likely you turn your TV over to the Weather Channel, go to your favourite weather site on the web or fire up a weather app on your smart phone. Yet, if (or should that be when?) civilisation collapses and you’re left fighting for you life against the zombies which now rule the land, none of these options will be available to you, and all you’ll have to rely on is your own weather forecasting skills. I know what you’re thinking: ‘If there’s zombies every where, why the hell am I going to need to know what the weather’s doing? I mean, I’m not exactly going to be throwing a barbecue and inviting the neighbours round, am I?

However, you couldn’t be more wrong. Sudden storms can bring down your defences if you’re not prepared for them, while high winds, heavy rain and unexpected frosts can damaged crops and food supplies. Lightening strikes can start bush fires and tornadoes destroy buildings. Snow storms and flash floods can trap you out in the open if they catch you unawares, while hurricanes can level whole cities (or whatever’s left of them!). All of this is on top of having to face the daily struggles to find enough food and avoid being eaten by the rampaging dead. Yet, the weather needn’t be a problem for you if you know what’s coming and can prepare for it ahead of time. It’s only when it catches you with your guard down that it’s dangerous.

So how can you tell what’s coming your way? The secret here is being able to read the skies and unlock the information they holds. Mostly this is about knowing what different cloud formations (or lack there of) mean.

Lenticular clouds, like these ones, can appear dramatic and can indicate that a weather front is coming.

Lenticular clouds, like these ones, can appear dramatic and can indicate that a weather front is coming. Photo copyright: C.M. Drysdale.

For example, dramatic cloud formations on the horizon can mean bad weather’s coming your way. In particular, keep an eye out for clouds, such as lenticular ones, which can indicate turbulence up in the sky and can indicated a front is coming, bringing with it rain, winds and cooler temperatures.

Small fluffy Stratus clouds high in the sky usually mean good settled weather.

Small fluffy Stratus clouds high in the sky usually mean good settled weather. Photo copyright: C.M. Drysdale.

While lenticular clouds indicate a turbulent atmosphere above your head, the high fluffy Stratus clouds indicate stability, and so mean good weather. When you see these clouds you know there is little you need to worry about, well apart from the fact the world has come to an end … the zombies of course!

Cumulus clouds develop as hot air rises and given enough time can develop into cumulonimbus, or thunder, clouds.

Cumulus clouds develop as hot air rises and given enough time can develop into cumulonimbus, or thunder, clouds. Photo copyright: C.M. Drysdale.

Then there’s the convection clouds. These are isolated cloud formations created by warm air rising up into the sky. They start out as little puffy balls, but given time, they can build, first into Cumulus and then Cumulonimbus clouds which can bring sudden, torrential rain, strong winds, thunder and lightning.

Tendrils of cloud reaching down from the base of thunder clouds towards the ground are the first signs that a tornado is one its way.

Tendrils of cloud reaching down from the base of thunderclouds towards the ground are the first signs that a tornado is one its way. Photo copyright: C.M. Drysdale.

If you see Cumulonimbus clouds forming in your vicinity, you’ll want to find shelter fast, but you still need to keep an eye on them. Why? Because given the right conditions, thunder clouds can turn into tornadoes, and given the damage tornadoes can do, you need to be able to tell if one is forming in the skies nearby. The key is to keep an eye out for little tendrils of cloud reaching down from the base of the cloud towards the ground. These are the first signs that a twister might be on its way. The next sign is when they start to develop into funnel clouds. If they do, that’s the time to get out of the way, and fast, because you don’t want to be anywhere near it when it touches down.

Vultures circling in the sky means death on the ground, and in a post-apocalyptic world, that can mean zombies too!

Vultures circling in the sky means death on the ground, and in a post-apocalyptic world, that can mean zombies too! Photo copyright: C.M. Drysdale.

Of course, there can be more information in the skies than just the weather. Vultures or other scavenging birds circling in the sky can indicate something’s wrong up ahead because there must be something dead to draw them together. And where there’s dead things, there’s probably zombies feasting, meaning the area is best avoided. Birds can also tell you other things too. Swallows fly closer to the ground when rain is on its way, while a flock of birds suddenly bursting into the air en masse means something’s startled them, and that may well mean undead are approaching.

Contrails streaking across blue cloudless skies can give hope because it means someone somewhere is doing better than you are, and that help might one day be on its way.

Contrails streaking across blue cloudless skies can give hope because it means someone somewhere is doing better than you are, and that help might one day be on its way. Photo copyright: C.M. Drysdale.

Then there’s the signs of hope that can be up there in the skies above our heads. Think about one of the key moments in 28 Days Later, where Jim spots a plane leaving its characteristic contrail streaking across the sky above the trees. Whenever I see this now, I always think post-apocalyptic thoughts and wonder how I’d cope if the rage virus really did exist.

So hopefully this has shown you that being able to read the skies is an important skill to have in your post-apocalyptic survival tool kit and, with that in mind, here’s a challenge for you. Below is a photo of a real sky where something dramatic has clearly happened. I took in the 1990s on Tilloo Cay in the Bahamas, looking west towards Florida.

I’ll give a free, signed copy of my book For Those In Peril On The Sea and a limited edition For Those In Peril On The Sea promotional coffee mug to one person who correctly identifies what the photo below tells you about what happened here. If I get more than one right answer, I’ll randomly select a winner from all those who get it right. This competition will be open until next Monday (the 5th of August 2013) and I’ll post the winner, and more importantly the answer, as soon as I can after that. To enter, just fill out the form below the picture itself.

What's going on in the sky  here? If you think you know, fill in the form below and you could win a signed copy of 'For Those In Peril On The Sea'.

What’s going on in the sky here? If you think you know, fill in the form below and you could win a signed copy of ‘For Those In Peril On The Sea’. Photo copyright: C.M. Drysdale.

All pictures in this post are copyright Colin M. Drysdale. Please do not use them for any purpose without express written permission.


*****************************************************************************
From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

Advertisements

10 Responses to “Reading The Skies – An Essential Post-Apocalyptic Survival Skill”

  1. RStorey 31/07/2013 at 03:26 #

    Great article. This was actually something I never really thought about. Growing up on Lake Erie three was a little rhyme that was commonly used

    “Pink sky at morning, sailor’s take warning.
    Pink sky at night, sailor’s delight.”

    And then after living in Texas for more than 15 years tornado weather is easy to identify.

    But there are so many conditions than I really need to come to understand. Not just for the weather itself, but knowing how that weather will effect wildlife (better fishing for example).

    Thanks!

    • cmdrysdale 31/07/2013 at 10:50 #

      We have the same rhyme in Scotland, although it’s shephard’s delight, and I’ve also heard a pilot’s version. I think this originates in the fact that weather at mid-latitudes tends to come in from the west (because of the prevailing winds), so a clear sunset means settled weather is coming your way.

      With tornadoes, yes they are easy to spot once you know what you’re looking for, but they can pop up in some very unusual places. The photographs I posted of one forming was taken in northern Scotland, which is hardly well known for twisters.

      You’re right, weather will have a big influence on wildlife, and certainly when I fished for trout as a kid, I was always told the best conditions were just before it rained since all the insects would be low over the water and the fish would be rising. Similarly, deer tend to gather on the lee sides of the mountains, so if you know where the wind will be coming from you can predict where you are most likely to find them.

      Most of this is quite intuitive once you start thinking about it, but sometimes people get it very wrong. When I was working as a guide on a whale-watching vessel, I was once asked, quite seriously, why we were going out in the rain because surely the dolphins we were looking for wouldn’t want to get wet!

      • RStorey 01/08/2013 at 01:28 #

        I need a ‘reading the skies’ pocket guide to shove in my bug-out bag.

      • cmdrysdale 01/08/2013 at 10:33 #

        Good idea! A starting point would be the wonderful ‘The Cloudspotter’s Handbook’. It’s not a technical book, but it’s good reading and is a great introduction to identifying different cloud types and what they can mean for weather, as well as having others interesting titbits of information in there.

        Here’s the Amazon listing link for it: http://www.amazon.com/books/dp/0399533451

  2. RStorey 31/07/2013 at 03:29 #

    I have a couple photos I have taken. I wish I could post them in blog replies.

    • cmdrysdale 31/07/2013 at 10:41 #

      While you can’t post the pictures themselves, if you upload them to Flickr (or any other similar service), you can post the links to them in the reply. They might get caught in my spam filter, but I can okay them from this end.

  3. lararthompson 19/08/2013 at 06:50 #

    Hmm, I’ve seen lenticular clouds shrouding a mountain top (esp the big conical volcanos lining the west coast). High isolated peaks are more likely to get turbulent weather? In an otherwise clear sky, do these clouds still mean bad stuff for the mountain itself? [Great post: weather forecasting is awesome stuff[

    • cmdrysdale 19/08/2013 at 17:08 #

      The mountain lenticular clouds are slightly diffferent.They tend indicate moisture laden air is being pushed up and over the top (with the decreasing air pressure and cooler temperatures causing the moisture to form the cloud above or surrounding the summit). They are usually an indicator of strong winds near the top but not necessarily bad weather (depending on exactly how you define bad weather of course!).

      • lararthompson 20/08/2013 at 21:38 #

        Strong winds aren’t wonderful usually. Interesting. Makes sense that they would be different. Where are lenticular clouds likely over flatter terrain?

      • cmdrysdale 21/08/2013 at 18:55 #

        Over flatter terrain lenticular clouds appear to be most common when you get two bodies of air crashing into each other in frontal areas. They’re not common and mostly I’ve seen them in ones or twos, and only very occasionally in groups of more than that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s