The weather stick has always been popular in the New England States, and it’s growing in popularity elsewhere, too. People have used them for centuries to predict the weather. In fact, it’s said that the Abenaki American Indians that lived along the northeastern coast of the US and Canada were the first to use them.
So what exactly is a weather stick? More importantly, how do they work and how accurate are they?
The World’s Simplest Weather Prediction Device
Weather sticks are made from the dried twigs of balsam fir trees and they’re usually between 15 and 16 inches long. Looking at them, you’ll see they’re incredibly simple – just a stick with the bark removed and a little piece of the tree’s trunk remaining so that you can easily nail it to a wall, fencepost, or a pillar on your porch.
The weather prediction is all in the way weather stick moves. The stick curls upwards sharply when good weather is headed your way and downwards when the weather is about to take a turn for the worse.
They’re very accurate, and they last a long time. Hang one outside your kitchen window or on your porch and it’ll keep forecasting the weather for years to come.
But How Does It Work?
They might seem like a bit of woodsy folklore that doesn’t stand up to modern meteorological methods, but there is actually quite a lot of science behind them. These sticks bend based on the relative humidity.
Higher humidity – which is often a signifier of bad weather – makes them curl downward. When they dry out, they straighten out or curve upwards.
The interesting thing is that there aren’t many kinds of wood that can be used this way – you can’t simply cut a twig from any old tree and expect it to predict the weather. Most trees have what is known as reaction wood.
In other words, if a tree is always exposed to winds coming out of the west, that tree will develop stronger wood fibers on its eastern side to help brace it against high winds.
Balsam fir, however, develops its reaction wood a bit differently. Live balsam fir trees develop reaction wood on the undersides of their branches so that in dry weather, the reaction wood fibers shrink to conserve water, thus bending them towards the ground. Then, when rains come along and the fir trees start drawing more water, those same fibers expand and the tree’s branches unfurl.
Dried balsam fir sticks retain these properties, but since they’re no longer attached to a root system, they rely on the amount of humidity in the air to curl and uncurl.
In fact, that’s one reason why weather sticks have the bark removed. The wood can soak up more water and dry out more quickly, which makes them bend a lot more than if they were protected by a layer of bark.
Using A Weather Stick
The best weather sticks make weather prediction easy. They’ll have a very obvious curve upwards or downwards depending on the humidity. To install one, make sure that the stick is oriented upside-down from the way that it would have grown on the tree.
Traditionally, weather sticks point up for good weather and down for bad weather. If you install your weather stick right side up (the way it would have grown naturally), it will still work, but it will point upwards as wet weather approaches instead of downwards.
Who would have thought that you could predict the weather with something as simple as a stick? If you’re looking for a simple, no-batteries-required way to forecast the weather at home, weather sticks are the best way to do it!
Time Lapse of a Weather Stick in Action
Purchase a weather stick here:
Farmers’ Almanac Weather Stick
Straight from the Maine woods, this balsam fir weather forecaster really works!
Hang it from an outside wall or a door casing and watch it bend down to predict foul weather, up to predict good weather!
Join The Discussion!
Have you ever used a weather stick before?
Let us know in the comments below!
Amber Kanuckel is a freelance writer from rural Ohio who loves all things outdoors. She specializes in home, garden, environmental, and green living topics.