Nature Notes: Wild winter storms

Nature Notes: Wild winter storms

Few things here on the coast are as exciting as watching the wild winter storms blow ashore. With gale winds rattling everything not nailed down and pelting rain that sounds all the world like someone is outside squirting your windows with a high pressure garden hose, these storms are one of the real perks of living on the coast.

The gale winds of winter can blow so hard as to take on a life of their own. Speaking their mind through tree branches high aloft, or whispering promises through power lines overhead, those unpredictable winds can develop a real personality.

It's not uncommon for a deep low pressure weather system to move in from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, and as the "eye" of the storm passes us overhead, stars may come out or a big patch of clear blue sky will appear for a little while before the weather closes in again. Not unlike the eye of a hurricane passing.

The barometer is the key weather instrument to have here, as the falling barometric pressure is a sure guide to the speed and intensity of the approaching storm. The greater the drop in the barometer, together with the rate at which it drops, speaks to the degree of the intense storm on its way in.

The barometer is a surprisingly accurate gauge of how severe the winter storms are likely to be. If a person becomes familiar with the common everyday "barometric tides" or daily fluctuations seen on a sensitive barometer, the better one can become at predicting some really big weather approaching.

If you're a computer Internet user, or know someone who is, there are unlimited resources weather-wise. There are some real interesting web sites that make seeing the approaching weather just that much more relevant (see links below).

Also, there are automatic weather station buoys anchored out in the open ocean reporting real time weather conditions. Some of these weather buoys are scattered along the coast near shore, and some are as much as six hundred miles offshore.

With just a little practice, and with some real-time info from far off weather buoys, a good quality barometer (I use an airplane altimeter), and a few good satellite timelapse mini-movies, you can get a pretty good handle on just when these spectacular winter storms are likely to be here and just how intense they might be. Big incoming waves mean big surf on the beaches! Will there be sleet and hail? Ice on the roads? Or even lightning? Pretty easy to figure out given all this interesting data.

Some people may prefer to just "veg out" and watch the local weather on TV, but there is great satisfaction in connecting with the wild weather outside by following its progression and development as it prepares to once again scour the coast.

Weather instruments make great Christmas presents, so ... why not give weather watching a try! The awesome power of Mother Nature at her atmospheric best is a show not to be missed. Turn off the TV and head out to the beaches and headlands. Watch the wild winter gales and powerful weather do it's ancient thing and let it remind us that we are very small and it is very big.

Check out the following sites:

Craig Sparks is director of NAWA, and a lifelong watcher of Wild Weather. Found Injured wildlife? Questions? Call NAWA at 665-3595 or e-mail to

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