MADE BY MEMBERS • May 2021
The UK’s first – and only – ‘natural navigator’, Tristan Gooley has made a career out of pointing out things that are under most people’s noses. To celebrate his latest title, The Secret World of Weather, he sits down with us to discuss that most British of small-talk subjects – and how we can stay one step ahead of the curve
Whether you’re surrounded by giant mountains or country hedgerows, in the middle of a forest or in the heart of the city, wind accelerates when it finds a gap. Gap winds happen every day – one minute it’s gusty, then still, gusty, then still. This is simply the wind being funnelled through components of the landscape. So if you’re picnicking next to a gap in a fence, you can expect your crisp packets to go flying away much more easily than if not!
Moss can tell you a lot about how humid and damp the air is, particularly the height it reaches on any given tree. Simply put, the higher the moss on the tree, the damper the air and more humid the woodland floor. That’s why in very humid places moss can reach up to head height or higher. So, to avoid a soggy picnic, pick a spot by a tree where the moss looks to be as low as possible. If it’s low, the moss is thirstier and eager for moisture, meaning you’ve got yourself some pretty dry ground.
If you spot a bird, or birds, orbiting in circles, getting higher, they’re telling you that there is an unusually hot spot just below. Across any landscape, the heat map is not identical, and you could always be closer than you think to a naturally hotter place. A friend called me from town the other day and told me there were buzzards circling. I asked if they were looking for a car parking spot and he asked how I knew they were over a car park. It’s because, at that time of day, it’s the only tarmac in town that’s going to be warm enough to attract them!
If you’re walking along a street, the wind blows over said street from whichever direction it’s coming from (let’s say east to west), hits the buildings on the west side of the street, gets pushed down and out back across to the east side of the street. This is called the Marylin Monroe effect. Thus, the wind is shepherding the pollution to the side of the street that the clouds/wind are rolling in from. Some people can walk down one side of the same street for ten years, never realising they’re on the polluted side!
By heading under a tree on a hot sunny day, you might think all you’re getting is welcome shade. But there’s always a breeze (even if we can’t feel it), and this is accelerated by the tree canopy and whips up some natural air con for those beneath it. It’s roughly the same physics as a plane: the upper surface of the wing is longer than the lower, so air going over has to work faster to catch up with the air that’s gone underneath. That makes the pressure lower above the wing, hence takeoff.
A massive (and quick) change in wind direction is one of the prime indicators of new weather to come. A fun thing to spot is that if birds are facing one way in the morning, and facing another in the afternoon, a storm is probably on its way. The birds like facing into the wind so, if they switch, the winds have switched (you can also gauge this by looking at the direction of the clouds or using a weather vane).
There are some easy ways to spot incoming rain before it catches you out. First, clouds start getting taller than they are wide, and the bottom of the cloud will start looking that bit fluffier. Remember the flat-bottomed cartoon Simpsons cloud? That cloud can’t rain, for when rain is ready to start falling, it cools the air below the cloud and disperses the texture into something messier. Finally, look out for lots of parallel cirrus clouds (the whispy, streaky cloud) high in the sky – this often means rain is afoot.
On the beach, we want to chill out, but sand in the air can be annoying. What people don’t realise is whipped-up sand like this isn’t just to do with wind speed, but also turbulence. It’s dropping in and out of the wind. That means you could be sitting on a beach for an hour complaining about it, when a group just 50 metres away from you isn’t experiencing any problems at all. Don’t settle, move around!
The Secret World of Weather by Tristan Gooley is available to buy now