Crozet Weather Alamanac: April 2015

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Can Animals Forecast Weather & Earthquakes?

By Heidi Sonen & Roscoe Shaw 

April 2015
April 2015

We have a psycho dog named Dirtbag who is terrified of thunderstorms. Once, he jumped right through our living room window in the middle of the night. Another time, he pried open an upstairs window and jumped off the roof. Once during a storm, we took him with us in the car but he shattered the car window and jumped into Highway 250 by Blue Ridge Builders Supply.

Dirtbag might be extreme, but lots of dogs are afraid of storms. Many people claim that they can forecast that a storm is coming. Same is true of earthquakes. Many folks have long claimed that the animals know they are coming.

So, can animals forecast quakes and storms? The answer is “sometimes, sorta” with the weather and “No” on earthquakes, although we will get some disagreement with the earthquake assessment.

Let’s start with weather. Dirtbag is an excellent thunderstorm forecaster but his technique is not that sophisticated. The first thing to understand is that he has nothing to do all day except sit there and watch the sky and occasionally bark at the UPS truck. When the wind picks up and the sky darkens, he gets nervous. He knows afternoon/evening is the worst. He can detect a sudden cooling from a distant thunderstorm-induced outflow boundary. He listens intently for distant thunder. In a nutshell, he simply pays attention to the signals.

Heidi and I can easily defeat Dirtbag at a forecasting contest if we are paying attention. But we tend to have more to do than sit in the yard all day with our eyes and nose to the sky. Certainly, we are better at forecasting tomorrow’s weather or next week. Dirtbag is only good for the next two hours or so. Also, with mathematical models and radar, we have a serious edge on the beast. But we have to be paying attention! I have seen Dirtbag get it all wrong. One day, he was seriously agitated and I was perplexed. But then I realized that dark clouds were gathering in the afternoon and a brisk wind was stiffening. His storm predictors were all flashing red, but Heidi and I knew it was just harmless stratocumulus and that the atmosphere was too dry and stable to thunder.

However, on many other days, we will be busy and cluelessly inattentive but Dirtbag will pick up the signs and head for hills terrified before gathering storms even cross I-81 in Staunton. Dirtbag is a very good short term forecaster but only because he cares and is paying attention. My other dogs could care less and just watch for signs that it’s dinner time.

Heidi and I don’t know much about earthquakes and there are some scientific studies that claim animals can forecast them. But count us skeptical. I think a California study sums it up. Researchers told thousands of people to email if their animals were acting strange and possibly predicting an earthquake. Every time an earthquake hit, their office was flooded with emails with timestamps right after the quake. Amazingly, no one ever seems to email BEFORE the quake. Clever study with unfortunate and disappointing results.

 

April Summary

April was almost completely “average.” Temperatures were warmer than normal most of the month but a cool last week brought us back to normal. Rain was plentiful. Over three inches fell the week of April 14-20. Combined with perfect temperatures, the rate of grass growth reached the maximum possible. Like Goldilocks porridge, temperatures were not too hot and not too cold and the moisture was ample. I swear you could sit and watch the grass grow.

 

April Rainfall Totals

Mint Springs 5.00”

Ivy 5.91”

Wintergreen 7.45”

White Hall 5.09”

Waynesboro 4.66”

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