Predict the weather like Babylonians

I stayed up very late to write an assignment once. The deadline was in 2 days so I had to give up sleep time for it. On the next day, I woke up, found out I was too LATE. I packed everything in 20 minutes and rushed to university, without checking the forecast. Half way my journey, the rain just started pelting. I thought: ‘Not again…’, and since there was no time for me to change, I was wearing my wet clothes for a whole 3-hour practical.

At that time, I wished I could learn such skill that can predict the weather.

Everyone was a meteorologist in the old days

Nowadays, meteorologists use refined scientific technologies to understand and predict the weather. Physics laws and mathematical equations govern all the aspects of the atmosphere prediction. Studying meteorology enables us to calculate the change of precipitation very precisely, but only professionals can read and understand all those statistics.

Can we read these numbers and results to know the weather? No.Not if you a not a meteorologist. That is why there is always a weather presenter standing in front of a green screen and explain to audiences all details that have been simplified before.

On the contrast, early civilisations, although they did not have precise instruments or a large facility with hundreds of technicians, they successfully used reoccurring astronomical and meteorological events to monitor daily and seasonal weather changes. The Babylonians tried to predict based on the appearance of clouds; the Chinese people developed a lunisolar calendar that divided the year into 24 different festivals, each has a characteristic feature, this calendar is so good that people are still using it now.

Back in time, people predicted various weather changes, even earthquakes and solar eclipses (they seemed very keen on predicting), and many of the predictions were successful. How astonishing!

The ancient Chinese Earthquake detector Source: Wiki Common Author: EastHanSeismograph


Aristotle, who wrote the Meteorologica. Source: Wiki Commons, licensed and can be used for non-commercial purpose



HOWEVER, such skills were somewhat lost on us modern humans, except some trained meteorologists. A form of human progression? Or is it really a form of degeneration? But I will not go that deep. I just simply want to show you how to know the approaching cold front. People like to count stars when they look up to the sky, but let’s squeeze our visions back to a closer field, to the things that just happened on Earth.



They can be anything to satisfy your imagination, but they are also signs of upcoming thunderstorms. Under any condition when you cannot check the weather, just looking for them.

Attention! Jargons haunt!

Clouds can be classified into four categories according to where they distribute over the atmosphere: high clouds, middle clouds, low clouds and clouds with vertical growth. They are named by their shapes: cumulus refers to a heap, stratus refers to a group of long and streaky clouds, and nimbus refers to rainy clouds.

I will introduce High clouds only in this article because I find it is better to do the research by yourself. If you think this all predict-weather thing is engaging, you are very welcome to dig yourself in. Writer-reader interaction, I call it.

High clouds, as the name suggests, are clouds that only appear on the top of mountains or at aeroplane altitudes. They do not block lights. High clouds include Cirrus, Cirrostratus, and Cirrocumulus.


Cirrus clouds stretch across the sky like some horses galloping. By all accounts, they indicate a fair weather in the immediate future. Nonetheless, they may also show a change of pressure fronts within the next 24 hours. By watching how and where they move, you can see which direction the weather front is moving.


Cirrus Source: Flickr Author: MarcinM_, some rights reserved



Cirrostratus clouds tend to cover the whole sky like a pure white wool quilt, and they may indicate a moist weather in the upcoming day.

Cirrostratus Source: Flickr Author: Andreas Christen, some rights reserved, not for commercial use




Cirrocumulus clouds are large groups of aligned streaks, If they appear on the sky it often means a fair weather for the near future. However, in the tropical area, these clouds may also be indicators of an upcoming hurricane in the summer.

Cirrocumulus Source: Flickr Author: Ian Jacobs, some rights reversed, not for commercial use




It is not easy to memorise all the tedious names and what they represent for all at once. To be a master of weather prediction, you need patience and practice. Furthermore, like all scientific researches, a more continuous observation will make better predictions, as the weather constantly change, especially here in Melbourne.

And I think modern meteorology is cool as well.

Good Luck!


Further readings:

Weather Forecasting Through the Ages


3 Responses to “Predict the weather like Babylonians”

  1. Arushi says:

    Predicting weather just looking at the clouds, extremely interesting! Fascinated me to go and read more about it and I find out that most prediction methods are based on west to east movement of major weather systems and low pressure bringing more rain! Thanks for the good read! 🙂

  2. lohj3 says:

    It’s simply fascinating to read a combination of science and history. Well done =-)

  3. James Spyrou says:

    Love it! Science + Ancient History is possibly the best combination. Not to mention that I never knew that cloud types could be so indicative!