Chasing El Niño
Centuries before meteorologists had advanced technology for making
weather forecasts, people observed the natural world and looked for patterns
to help explain and predict weather. Many of these observations were turned into sayings and passed down through generations. For example, "The louder the frog, the more the rain," or
"A sunny shower won't last an hour." But how accurate is weather folklore? Find out by designing an experiment that puts it to the test.
A cow with its tail to the west makes weather best; a cow with its tail to the east makes weather the least.
Guiding Steps and Questions
Use these steps to help you design your experiment.
Select a Folklore Saying
Evaluate whether the folklore
saying can be tested through
What constraints must you consider
(such as availability of time and
space, limitations of equipment,
cost, safety issues)?
Create a Question
Design the Experiment
Identify the variables in the
What kinds of data will help you
answer your question?
What data will you use to support
How will you collect, record and
represent your data?
What materials will you need?
What steps will you take to carry
out the experiment?
When ants travel in a straight line, expect rain; when they scatter, expect fair weather.
Review the Experimental Design
Have another team review your
experimental design. What questions
do they raise and how might you
address them? If there is any part of
your experiment you are having a
problem with, ask the other team
for input or advice.
Have your teacher review and
approve your experiment before
Do the Experiment
Analyze the Data
What patterns do you see in the data?
How do you interpret the data?
What evidence supports your
What might be inaccurate about
How else can you explain the data?
List two alternative explanations.
How can you organize the data to
present the strongest explanation
for your conclusion?
When leaves show their backs, it will rain.
Reflect on Your Experiment
Share Your Findings and
First share your experimental
design and then have your fellow
classmates predict what they think
Next, share your data with them
and have them try and interpret
what you found.
Finally, share your own conclusions
and discuss any differing views as
A Sample of Weather Folklore
Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take
The louder the frog, the more the rain.
A sunny shower won't last an hour.
When doors and windows stick, it will probably rain.
A wind from the south has rain in its mouth.
Haloes around the sun or moon indicate a rain or snow real soon.
When a cow endeavors to scratch his ear, it means a rain shower is very
near. When he thumps his ribs with an angry tail, look out for thunder,
lightning and hail.
Crickets are accurate thermometers; they chirp faster when warm and
slower when cold.
High clouds indicate fine weather will prevail; lower clouds mean rain.
When clouds look like rocks and towers, the Earth will be refreshed