How to Read a Weather Vane

By Heidi Braley

  • Overview

    Weather vanes have been used for centuries and by many nations, dating as far back as the 9th century BC. The word vane is from the Anglo Saxon word "fane," meaning flag. The early precursors to the weather vane were simple flags placed in a high spot to show archers the direction of the wind. The metal weather vanes became symbols of the buildings with decorations such as the Dove of Peace at Mount Vernon, or the coat of arms of special families. Interestingly enough, Thomas Jefferson engineered his weather vane to be read inside his home on the ceiling so that he did not have to go outside to check it. People became very adept at predicting the weather by using the weathervane, having a barometer and knowing some basics about the land where they lived.
    Historic Rooster Weather Vane
    • Step 1

      Look at the weather vane to see what direction the wind is blowing. The importance of the direction is in relation to where you live, what season you are in and your longitudinal bearing. For most people in the United State the general wind direction is from west to east, so a westerly wind is generally more of the same weather as normal. However, if you live high on a mountain, the local wind coming up the side of the mountain might prevail over the jet stream winds high overhead.
    • Step 2

      Check to see if the wind has changed from the west to the east. If so, many times it is the signal that a large circular mass of lower pressure is circling overhead, bringing storms with it, especially true during the changing of the seasons where the difference in the temperature between the south and the north becomes greater. This is usually the case if you have a large body of water to your east.


    • Step 3

      Watch the weather vane to see if the wind has shifted to come up from the south or southwest. This often means that the jet stream has dropped down and is carrying warmer air into the region. If your climate has been calm and cool, the adjustment to the warm air mass might mean a line of thunderstorms in the summertime, or it could signal a warming trend in the winter.
    • Step 4

      Pay attention to the way the wind vane is behaving. If it is swinging back and forth erratically, it usually means the air is unstable and a change of weather is on the way. If it is just sitting there doing nothing, the air is calm and the weather can be expected to stay the same for the time being.
    • Skill: Moderately Easy
    • Tip: Use a barometer for a more accurate prediction of weather.

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