Units of Measure index

Weather and Natural Phenomena

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This page describes some aspects of weather and natural phenomena.
Beaufort wind force scale - old descriptions (land and sea) and speeds
Temperature - Fahrenheit, Celsius and other systems
Frivolous items about the weather - rain, snow
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service's Glossary
Full moons
Points of compass (different page)
Nautical units (different page)

Beaufort wind force scale

The Beaufort scale was devised in 1805.

DescriptionConditions on landWaves
Conditions at sea
0< 1Calm Smoke raises vertically 0Sea like a mirror.
11-3Light air Direction shown by smoke but not by wind vanes .33Ripples only.
24-7Light breeze Wind felt on face; wind vanes move .66Small wavelets. Crests have a glassy appearance.
38-12Gentle breeze Leaves and twigs in motion; wind extends light flag 2Large wavelets, crests begin to break.
413-18Moderate breeze Raises dust, loose paper and moves small branches 3.3Small waves, some white horses.
519-24Fresh breeze Small trees in leaf begin to sway 6.6Moderate waves, many white horses.
625-31Strong breeze Large branches in motion; whistling in telegraph wires; difficulty with umbrellas 9.9Large waves, probably some spray.
732-38Moderate gale Whole trees in motion; difficult to walk against wind 13.1Mounting sea with foam blown in streaks downwind.
839-46Gale Twigs break off trees; progress impeded 18Moderately high waves, crests break into spindrift.
947-54Severe gale Slight structural damage occurs; chimney pots and slates blown off 23High waves, dense foam, visibility affected.
1055-63Storm Trees uprooted and considerable structural damage 29.5Very high waves, heavy sea roll, visibility impaired. Surface generally white.
1164-73Violent storm Widespread damage, seldom experienced in England 37.7Exceptionally high waves, visibility poor.
12> 73Hurricane force Winds of this force only encountered in tropical revolving storms >46Air filled with foam and spray, visibility bad.

The 'conditions on land' were copied from an old reference book. Note that it confidently states that you don't get hurricane force winds except in tropical revolving storms, and even force 11 is seldom found in England. Global warming seems to be proving that wrong. But I find the descriptions vivid, and you can use them today to estimate wind speed. I've altered the descriptions to suit the modern ones (which only happen for force 8 and above). The old descriptions had force 11 as Storm rather than Violent storm, for example. Also the wind speed for hurricane used to be 75m.p.h, but now it's 73 m.p.h.

I have rightly been brought to book for the previous statement about global warning by a correspondent: "Hurricane force winds are common in N Scotland and I don't think this owes much to global warming. It's the reason traditional croft house roofs are constructed of solid planks or sarking with every single slate nailed and probably clipped as well, whereas southern roofs are often a lattice of lightwight battens with only a few slates nailed, relying on the weight to hold them in place. I recall winds over 120mph on the north coast in about 1990. It was impossible to stand up outside. I had to crawl over the ground to fetch in the peats with debris ricocheting like bullets! But not one slate shifted, whereas a Surrey bungalow would have been in pieces in the Pentland Firth. Historical wind records would be interesting to see, but I'm inclined to think that these building standards were only maintained in such a poor region because centuries of experience proved them necessary."

Wikipedia has slightly different and Americanised descriptions, including references to 'swaying skyscrapers' (force 7), 'damage to circus tents' (force 9) and 'structural damage to mobile homes and poorly constructed sheds and barns' (force 12). Rather sniffy, that last description one feels! But then America does know what seriously strong winds are.

The 'conditions at sea' were copied from a booklet given out on a Channel ferry. It also said "Wave heights quoted are approximately those that may be expected in the open sea. In enclosed waters the waves will be smaller and steeper. Fetch, depth, swell, heavy rain and tide will also affect their height, and there will also usually be a time lag between any increase in the wind and the consequent increase in the sea." Wikipedia's descriptions are similar, but don't have the sea horses! The height of the waves are obviously converted from metric, but since this is supposed to be a website about Imperial units, I insist on using m.p.h (miles per hour) and feet.

There is a specific hurricane scale. From the BBC:

Hurricane scale

Another description of hurricane scale:

Hurricane scale


World Meteorological Organization sea state code:

WMO Sea State CodeWave heightCharacteristics
00 metres (0 ft)Calm (glassy)
10 to 0.1 metres (0.00 to 0.33 ft)Calm (rippled)
20.1 to 0.5 metres (3.9 in to 1 ft 7.7 in)Smooth (wavelets)
30.5 to 1.25 metres (1 ft 8 in to 4 ft 1 in)Slight
41.25 to 2.5 metres (4 ft 1 in to 8 ft 2 in)Moderate
52.5 to 4 metres (8 ft 2 in to 13 ft 1 in)Rough
64 to 6 metres (13 to 20 ft)Very rough
76 to 9 metres (20 to 30 ft)High
89 to 14 metres (30 to 46 ft)Very high
9Over 14 metres (46 ft)Phenomenal

I like the "Phenomenal"!

Character of the sea swell:

0. None
Low1. Short or average
2. Long
Moderate3. Short
4. Average
5. Long
Heavy6. Short
7. Average
8. Long
9. Confused

The direction from which the swell is coming should be recorded. Unless, presumably, it's confused....


To convert between different systems of measuring temperature, use this convertor below, which gives an answer rounded to 2 decimal places.

Enter value:   =   ?  

Temperature scaleWater
freezes at
boils at
Fahrenheit32° F212° F180° F The rather odd figure for freezing point in Fahrenheit (32 deg F) is because 0° F is the temperature that brine (salt and water) freezes. That was the coldest the inventor, Fahrenheit, could reliably reproduce in his laboratory. The 180 gap was chosen because it has lots of factors. It can be divided by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, etc.
Celsius0° C100° C100° C The old name for Celsius was Centigrade. They are exactly the same values. The original scale invented by Celsius had the same size degree, but went the other way, so 100 degrees was freezing and zero degrees was boiling.
Kelvin273.15 K373.15 K100 K Kelvin is used by scientists. 0 K is absolute zero, the coldest temperature that is theoretically possible (and impossible to achieve), which is -273.15° Celsius. 1 Kelvin in the Kelvin scale is the same step as 1° Celsius.
Rankine491.67° Ra671.67° Ra180° Ra Rankine starts at absolute zero as 0° Ra, and 1° in the Rankine scale is the same step as 1° Fahrenheit.
Reaumur0° Re80° Re80° Re The Reaumur scale used to be used in Europe, particularly in France and Germany, but was eventually replaced by the Celsius scale. Monsieur Rene de Reaumur proposed it in 1731. No longer used.
Romer7.5° Ro60° Ro52.5° Ro Romer is a disused temperature scale named after the Danish astronomer Ole Christensen Romer, who proposed it in 1701. It is similar to Fahrenheit in that the freezing point of brine is zero. No longer used.
Newton0° N33° N33° N Isaac Newton devised his scale around 1700. He invented the word 'thermometer' for an instrument to measure it. No longer used.
Delisle150° De0° De-150° De The Delisle scale was invented in 1732 by the French astronomer Joseph-Nicolas Delisle, and recalibrated in 1738. It remained in use for almost 100 years in Russia. Like the original Celsius, it goes the 'wrong' way. No longer used.

The old way of measuring temperature in Britain was Fahrenheit. Even when Celsius became the official way of measuring temperature, for example in weather forecasts, the forecasters still gave the Fahrenheit as well for many years. Even today, they sometimes give Fahrenheit to emphasise a particular extreme temperature.

From the brilliant xkcd website:

The BBC programme QI (which stands for Quite Interesting) has pointed out that British people tend to use Celsius when talking about cold temperatures ("It was minus four last night.") but Fahrenheit for hot temperatures ("The temperature must be in the 90s today.") It is quite true. This could be because a temperature of 25° is ambiguous. 25°C is a hot day in Britain (so we use Fahrenheit) and 25°F is a cold day (so we use Celsius). It is also true that you can detect 10°F difference of temperature. A temperature of 70°F is distinctly cooler than 80°F. The jump from 20°F to 25°C seems too small. On the other hand, it is definitely gratifying to high-light below freezing as negative, and so Celsius. Body temperature is more impressive as Fahrenheit ("I have a temperature of over a hundred!") Britain has other cases of mixed units. In volume, the British drink pints of beer and milk, yet all other liquids are sold by litre (fruit juice, wine, water, petrol, etc.) We measure small lengths in millimetres, but large distances in miles. We weigh our food in kilograms and ourselves in stone and pounds. Either we are very stupid, or very clever!

Not really about weather, but we are talking about temperature...

Normal body temperature: 98.6° F or 37° C

I tend to assume that 100° F is a serious temperature or fever.
I must admit that body temperature is the only thing that I find hard to do in metric. It all seems a bit fiddly, with decimal points involved.

Remember not to take the temperature after exercise, or after eating or drinking anything, especially a hot drink!

Another non-weather temperature conversion - cookers (or stoves) use one of three different systems for oven temperatures.

FahrenheitCelsius/CentigradeGas Regulo
Very cool250°F120°C¼
Fairly hot375°F190°C5
Very hot450°F230°C8

The Celsius figure is approximate. The Fahrenheit is old-fashioned. The Regulo is still there on some new gas stoves, I am pleased to see!

Here two different ways to convert (accurately) between Fahrenheit and Celsius:
Take Fahrenheit value
- 32
x 5
/ 9
gives Celsius value
Take Celsius value
x 9
/ 5
+ 32
gives Fahrenheit value
Take Fahrenheit value
+ 40
x 5
/ 9
- 40
gives Celsius value
Take Celsius value
+ 40
x 9
/ 5
- 40
gives Fahrenheit value

The second method takes more steps, but has a pleasing symmetry. It comes from the completely useless piece of information: - 40°C = - 40°F.

A correspondent has added these pleasing palindromes (reversals): 16°C = 61°F and 28°C = 82°F

Accurate conversion is all very well, but sometimes we hear a temperature and want to convert into the other system quickly, without having to multiply or divide by nine. Also, the answer tends to have decimals in, whereas most of us just want to know whether tomorrow's weather forecast is hot or cool! So here is a very rough approximation, within 5 deg C. I give the accurate value for the freezing point of water, because I am a gardener, so I think that frosts are important!


Another way of doing this:
To convert from Fahrenheit to Celsius: Subtract 30 and divide by 2.
To convert from Celsius to Fahrenheit: Multiply by 2 and add 30.

If you find the above table too hard to memorise, then remember that 70°F is 20°C, and this is a comfortable indoor room temperature. For temperatures above or below that, remember that 5°C is (roughly) 10°F. So 50°F (cool) is 10°C, and 90°F (hot - for Britain!) is 30°C. In fact, 90°F is about 32°C, a pleasing fact for those who think in Fahrenheit but incomprehensible to others.

Frivolous items about the weather

There is a story (true or not, I don't know) that Innuit and other Northern people have a large number of words for snow. This is considered surprising, but when you think of it, the British have a lot of words for rain:

dewPerhaps cheating, but rain is water condensing in the air and falling. Dew is water condensing on the ground.
mistWater condensing in the air and not falling. Not as thick as fog. Visibility more than a kilometre.
fogIf you can't see far enough, then it's fog, and you should drive carefully! Strictly speaking, visibility less than a kilometre.
smogThe word 'smog' is used to mean polluted fog. It comes, of course, from the words 'smoke' and 'fog'. To the British, smog means the thick, sulferous London fog which was caused by coal fires.
spittingThe start of a rain shower. Not heavy (yet!)
drizzleLight rain.
dampThis can describe existing precipitation "It's damp outside" or the fact that it's been raining.
mizzleHalf way between mist and drizzle. Jane Austen writes of a "thick mizzling rain" in Northanger Abbey.
drop of rainCan be used in the negative ("we haven't had a drop of rain") or ironic ("just a drop of rain - we expect flooding soon").
showerA short spell of rain. It may be light or heavy.
splash of rainA shower.
rainYes, we sometimes describe it just as rain: light rain, mild rain, heavy rain, continuous rain, torrential rain, or as the weather forecasters put it "I'm sorry to say, yet more rain..."
precipitationA more formal word for rain.
low flying cloudFrivolous expression for rain.
wetA stronger form of 'damp' (see above). Australians talk about 'The Wet', which is their rainy season, and a lot more serious.
thin rainNot very heavy.
lazy rainRain which is too lazy to go around and instead goes through a person, i.e. soaks them through, even though it is not a terribly heavy rain. (I've heard of a lazy wind on the same principle.)
squallThis is really a term for a short and intense gust of wind, but it often carries rain as well.
nice weather for ducksDucks like being wet. Or perhaps that type of weather is considered foul (fowl).
dark skiesThis describes how the sky looks before it's going to rain (hard).
heavens openThe heavens presumably are full of water, since this starts the rain.
liquid sunshineMaking rain sound good!
soggyOr possibly 'a general state of sog'. Used to describe rained-on camping holidays.
drenchedDescription of you after you'be been out in rain. Other descriptions include damp, wet, sodden, like a drowned rat.
downpourFor this, you need a decent mac, an umbrella, shelter, or you get wet. Also pouring, pouring down.
profuse precipitationAn apt description!
Bank Holiday weatherThe British claim that it always rains on Bank Holidays. Similarly 'Wimbledon weather'.
cloud-burstEven more water coming down.
washoutUsed to describe an event spoiled by too much rain.
peeing downThis is a euphemism, and covers the ruder term. Very descriptive, though. I think that people used to give their weather gods beer to encourage them to rain.
persisting downAnother euphemism for the same, but descriptive in its own right.
shoeing it downI'm not sure if this is another euphemism, or if it means the rain is like shoes hitting you. Or perhaps it's connected to sheeting down (see below). I read it in a newspaper.
tipping downSaid by someone (usually me) standing in a puddle of water that's dripped off me. Also tippling dwn.
chucking it downHeavy rain.
peltingMore heavy rain.
teemingAnd more heavy rain.
driving rainThe type of rain that forces its way through your clothing.
lashing downThe rain is falling so hards that it stings you like a whip.
bucketing downSomeone up there is emptying buckets of water on you.
hammering downThis one's good as it concentrates on the noise.
delugeLike a flood from the sky.
stair-rodsA stair-rod is a thin strip of metal which keeps a stair carpet attached to a stair. If rain is coming down in stair-rods, then there is a lot of water coming down.
like a firehoseAnother vivid metaphor.
horizontal rainWhen it's lashing down and really windy. Also sideways rain.
sheeting downRain doesn't fall evenly. Here the feeling is that the rain (perhaps the stair-rods) have joined together to make entire sheets of water. Also sheeting.
raining cats and dogsI don't think that I've ever heard anyone actually say this, but we know what it means. More heavy rain.
bouncing rainwhen rain falls so hard it leaps upwards again. Also 'straight down and bouncing'.
raining upwardsas above
dancing soldiersas above. Also dancing dollies.
thunder stormThis requires thunder and lightning as well of course, but in Britain it's associated with heavy rain. Thunder storms usually involve people counting between the lightning (which is seen almost immediately) and the thunder (which travels at the speed of sound and so is heard later). This gap shows how many miles away the storm is: 5 seconds per mile. (See speed.)
monsoonalWe don't get monsoons in Britain, of course.
sleetSomething half way between snow and rain, a mixture of both, and with the disadvantages of both, being wet and cold.
glaze or freezing rainA type of rain that freezes when it touches the ground, trees, cables etc. This would be very rare in England. It happens in Scotland.

I've left out "raw" because I'm not quite sure how much rain is associated with it. It's more connected with wind (a "lazy" wind - see above) and cold. But there's definitely some drizzle connected with it. Cold drizzle (or even fog, see below) stinging your cold face...

After an article on the BBC website on this topic, I've divided out common terms (defined as those I've heard of!) above, and dialect and other nation terms below. I have given a rough indication of location, but this will be vague - Scottish terms might spread south, for example. I'm guessing some of the meanings - please let me know if I've got any wrong.

haarA coastal fog along certain lands bordering the North Sea. The term is primarily applied in eastern Scotland.
mochie(ch as in loch) - warm and damp.
smirry rainA fine spray-mist type of rain which still soaks you. Also known as 'smir'.
dreichCold, wet and miserable. Rain that just seems to hang in the air getting things wet without actually falling.
Scotch mistA light, steady drizzle.
gandiegowHeavy shower.
thunner plumpThunder shower.
hoiking it downHeavy rain.
guttingHeavy rain.
stottingRaining so hard that the raindrops bounce off the pavement.
hale-watterVery heavy rain.
Here is a list of Scottish rain terms, without definitions (some given above): Onfaw, Natter, Thunner-plump, Scuff, Weety, Smaw-weet, Weetichtie, Dreich, Mochie, Droukit, Smirr, Greetie, Gandiegow, Plowtery, Dreep, Sclutter, Slaister, Driv, Rugg, Murr, Hagger, Dagg, Rav, Either, Eesk, Neist, Fiss, Roostan Hoger, Dister, Skub, Aiter, Rash, Hellyie-fer, Skift, Speet, Vaanloop, Scat, Tumalt, Shooer.
Another BBC webpage says that Scots 'have 421 words' for snow, describing some of them. This comes from the Scots Thesaurus website.
softRaining. Not hard, but a gentle drizzle that will probably carry on for the rest of the day!
plootDownpour of rain.
Welsh rainRain which appears to be 'just spitting' but in fact is a fine heavy mist - you will get soaked, and an umbrella is useless!
gale-force fogDeeply penetrating fine rain driven by strong winds. (This may be Irish in origin.) An RAF station talked about "jet-propelled fog".
The following are repeated even though I don't speak Welsh and don't know what they mean!
Mae o leiaf 26 o eiriau ar gyfer law yn Gymraeg (There are at least 26 words for rain in Welsh)
bwrw, byrlymu, glawio, llifo, bwrwglaw, towlud (dial.), dafnu, taflu, pigo, hegar law, glaw man, lluwchlaw, gwlithlaw, chwipio bwrw, brasfwrw, pistyllio, sgrympian (dial.), piso, cawodi, curlaw, arllwys, tywallt, tollti, stido (dial.), dymchwel, tresio, Mae hi'n bwrw hen wragedd a ffin (it's raining old women and sticks)
fretSea mist. These happen on land but roll in from the sea.
spritzSlight drizzle.
wet windDrizzle. From Sussex.
wetting rainPersistent drizzle (Northern).
pluttingSparse but heavy drops that come before a good downpour.
luttering downHeavy rain.
siling downHeavy rain.
plothering downHeavy rain.
kelshingLincolnshire dialect for pouring down with rain.
hoying it doonPouring down with rain, from Geordie expression "hoy" meaning "throw".
hentin downPouring down with rain (Cornwall)
blatteringRaining heavily, combined with high gusty winds, and such that the rain periodically seems to blast against a window/door.
gooslin' drown-derPoor gooslin's!
gully washerHeavy rain, where the water cuts grooves in the land, which must be filled and repaired - else the next rain will only make them deeper. Sections of crop can be washed away, and deep gullies prevent the reasonable passage of machinery to work the fields.
raining billy goatsPresumably heavier than raining cats and dogs.
drain busterVery descriptive.
frog-stranglerVery heavy, prolonged rain (parts of Texas and the South)
Monkey's BirthdayWhen it is raining and the sun is shining.
Fox's weddingRain from an apparently blue sky
Florida car washSudden deluge on a sunny day followed by more sunshine.
Bubble Rainan Indian description.
Dit reen ou meide met knobkieries(Afrikaans) "It's raining old maids with knobkieries", a knobkierie being a club-like weapon with a wooden ball at one end.

It has been pointed out that almost any expression of the form "it's ***** it down" is understood to mean that it's raining. I'm not sure whether some of the above expressions fall into that category.

I have not included hail or snow in this list as they are definitely frozen in the air, so different. However, Dictionary Corner in Radio Times gave the following Scottish terms for snow: "feefle" meaning to swirl, and "flindrikin" for a light snow shower. A "flother" and a "figgerin" are single flakes that usually promise more to come. To "nester", "driffle" and "skift" all mean to begin to snow. An "unbrak" is the beginning of a thaw, and "snaw-brue" is melted snow. Regional English has "heller" for a bitterly cold winter's day. "Crump" means to walk on compacted snow, and "niveous" is a snow covered landscape (from Latin niveus meaning snow-white).

If you can think of other more, do let me know! Some of the above have already been suggested by correspondents.

Other weather doesn't seem to attract the same vividness of lanuage from the Brits. There is "a bit of a blow" (probably a gale), "white stuff" (snow), "rain with lumps in" (either hail or sleet), "what is that mysterious round yellow thing in the sky?" (acidic comment during a poor summer).

Comment overheard at an event during the wet summer of 2012: "The main difference between summer and winter in this country is the temperature of the rain."

"How do you know it's raining cats and dogs?" - "Poodles in the road!"

Military expression: "If it ain't raining, it ain't training."

In the Fens: "February fills the dykes." A dyke is a ditch dug round the outside of a field to drain it. Many Cambridge colleges by the river - the Backs - have dykes round their land. Winter is supposed to be the wet time, when the aquifers (under-ground water supplies) refill.

There was a horrific smog in 1952 which lasted 4 days and caused the deaths of thousands. It led directly to the Clean Air Acts which cleaned up the atmosphere. These fogs really were yellow. There were smogs in the late 1950s when I lived in South London. We had to wrap scarves round our mouths when we went outside, and I remember a smog so thick that standing on the pavement (sidewalk), I couldn't see the kerb of the pavement on the other side of a narrow road.
A correspondent wrote: "In what I believe was the last really bad episode of Smog, my father picked me up from school to go with him to drive to visit my grandmother who was dying. On the way home, the smog was so thick he had me lean out of the passenger window to watch the kerb as he could not see where the road went. The journey was quite frightening and we drove in and out of numerous bus stops! The next morning in school, I noticed that the left sleeve of my blazer was black instead of navy blue. A friend who rode his scooter home from work that same day reported later that his camel-colored duffle coat was completely black on the front when he arrived home! This certainly confirms the presence of a lot of smoke in the fog."
T.S. Eliot wrote about London smog in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

Weather words and phrases also enter the language:    inundated with, or flooded with
a sunny disposition
a frigid look or an icy look
blown away
rain on your parade

I have already described Wales as a unit of area (as in "a giant iceberg as big as Wales"). However, I have also heard of it as a unit of rainfall. Some rain forest was described as being "three times as wet as Wales".

This came frm a BBC article: "It's looking a bit black over Bill's mother's" is often heard in the English Midlands when dark clouds appear on the horizon, heralding rain. But who is Bill? Some believe "Bill" refers to William Shakespeare, whose mother Mary Arden lived in Stratford-Upon-Avon. However, the smart money is on Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last German emperor and king of Prussia, abdicating at the end of World War One. Germany's foreign policy at that time echoed Wilhelm's changeable and blustering character, according to the Open University. Black Country poet Brendan Hawthorne said: "If there was stormy weather coming from the East they would say it's black over Bill's mother's." This has a wider scope than this (for a saying I'd never heard of!) "Learn to speak Fen" by Michael Rouse gives the expression as "It looks dark over Will's Mother's". Fenland is north and east of Cambridge.

For those unacquainted with the British climate, we don't have really heavy rain storms. We don't have monsoons, we don't have hurricanes, we don't have typhoons, we aren't a rain forest. We even have droughts sometimes (the sort of droughts where we are not allowed to water the lawn with hosepipes rather than real shortages of water). But it can rain at any time of year and it is frequently cloudy. Britain is a green place and we love our gardens. Scotland, Ireland, Wales and the Lake District (Cumberland in England) get perhaps more than their fair share. Wherever there is a local mountain, then you are told (as if you've never heard it before) that "If you can see that mountain, then it's about to rain. If you can't, then it's already raining." In Dublin, I heard a lovely description of one of their public gardens "Planted by man, watered by God".

Having mentioned British droughts, there were a couple of dry winters leading up to the Spring on 2012, and water levels in reservoirs were low, so some of the British water companies declared a drought and we weren't allowed to use hosepipes to water the garden. The British weather promptly, almost patriotically, proceeded to give us the wettest Spring since records began, continuing on into July. Increasingly acidic comments were made about "the wettest drought since records began" and "Can we use hosepipes to help remove floodwater from our houses?" Some people even started to use 'droughting' to mean heavy rain (but I don't think that will last, so I haven't included it in the list).

The Misery Index was suggested in correspondence to the Times (some time ago) as a classification of the discomfort endured during a wet English summer. In this index, the balmy air and blue sky of the Mediterranean are indicated as 100. Values below 30 call for immediate emigration to escape from the grey skies and continuous rain in Britain.

The English do not 'do' snow. Scotland has frequent snow, and even manages ski slopes. But parts of England can have winters with no snow at all, and snow that lasts more than 24 hours in Southern England can cause all sorts of chaos. In 1991 there was a fall of snow and the train service (at that time called British Rail) said "we are having particular problems with the type of snow". It was soft and powdery, and not deep enough for snow ploughs. It found its way into electrical systems and caused short circuits and traction motor damage. This was gleefully reported as "the wrong kind of snow". The British, who think that there is only one type of snow, now use the phrase to mean a lame excuse. Silly us.

Some nursery rhymes about the weather:
It's raining, it's pouring,
The old man is snoring,
He went to bed
And bumped his head
And didn't get up 'til the morning.

An alternative fourth line: with a bucket on his head

The north wind doth blow,
And we shall have snow,
And what will the robin do then?
Poor thing.

He'll sit in a barn,
And keep himself warm,
And hide his head under his wing.
Poor thing.
Whether the weather is cold
Or whether the weather is hot.
We'll weather the weather
Whatever the weather
Whether we like it or not.

Some modern verses:
And from Spike Milligan:
The sky is full of holes
That's where the rain gets in.
The holes are very small
And that's why rain is thin.
The Beatles - I am the Walrus:
Sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun.
If the sun don't come, you get a tan
From standing in the English rain.

And to finish off - from the Met Office:

Present weather descriptions
Precipitationrain, drizzle, snow, hail, snow pellets, snow grains, ice pellets, small hail, diamond dust and any combination of these falling from the sky. Therefore, drifting snow and blowing snow are not included.
Showersprecipitation falling from convective cloud (i.e Cumulus or Cumulonimbus clouds). Showers tend to start and stop abruptly, they are often characterised by large variations in intensity over short periods of time and the raindrops tend to be larger than in non-showery precipitation.
Rain/drizzledrizzle often appears to float in the air and the drops make no effect on puddles, whereas raindrops create rings as they hit the puddle surface.
Freezing precipitationrain or drizzle that freezes on impact with the ground (it is liquid as it falls, turning to ice immediately on impact, forming a clear coating of ice on roads, twigs, overhead wires, etc.). This coating is called ‘glaze’ or, commonly, ‘black ice’.
Frozen precipitationprecipitation that is already ice before it reaches the ground (i.e. snow, hail, small hail, ice pellets, snow pellets, snow grains and diamond dust). To decide what is falling, consider the appearance, size and clouds of origin.
Mixed precipitationtwo or more types of precipitation falling together.
Snowice crystals that appear white (isolated star-like crystals and small flakes occur in colder weather, whereas large wet flakes are typical around 0 °C).
Snow grainsappear like small grains of rice, usually falling in small quantities over short periods; when they fall on hard ground, they do not bounce or break up (grains fall from stratus, or even fog, but never in the form of a shower).
Hailtransparent or opaque, spherical or irregular; main distinguishing feature is its size; diameters start at about 5 mm (always falls from very deep convective clouds, so is often associated with thunderstorms).
Small hailtypically diameters of 2 to 5 mm, more or less spherical and semi-transparent, though can be transparent (only falls from shower clouds, including thunderstorms; bounces with an audible sound when it falls on hard ground and is not easily crushed).
Snow pelletsusually rounded, white and opaque, having diameters of 2 to 5 mm; looking like tiny snow balls (usually fall from shower clouds, accompanied by rain or snow but — unlike small hail — they usually break up on impact, being brittle and easily crushed).
Ice pelletsspherical or irregular ice particles that are transparent, with diameters up to 5 mm. They are not easily crushed, bounce with an audible sound on impact and usually fall from altostratus or nimbostratus clouds.
Diamond dusttiny ice crystals only visible when they glitter in the sunshine; falling from a clear sky; rarely experienced in UK.
Fogtiny water droplets suspended in air, reducing the visibility below 1,000 m in ANY direction with the fog being at least 2 m deep above the ground; the relative humidity is 100% (or very nearly so) and the air usually feels clammy and raw (can be described as CONTINUOUS or occurring in PATCHES). Note: If, during the day, cloud or blue sky can be seen through the fog or, at night, stars are visible, then the sky is said to be visible. If, due to thick fog or heavy precipitation (usually snowfall), the sky, stars or cloud cannot be seen, then ‘sky not visible’ applies.
Mistvisibility 1,000 m or more but usually less than 10 km, and relative humidity greater than about 95%. Rime — tiny fog droplets may freeze when they come into contact with objects like posts and twigs and, when this happens, a deposit of ‘rime’ ice gradually builds up on the windward side (in very cold weather, and with light winds or calm, rime can accumulate on all surfaces of objects, not just the windward side).
Ice fogtiny ice particles suspended in the air at very low temperatures, unlikely to be experienced in UK.
Shallow fognot higher than about 2 m; visibility below this height must be less than 1,000 m, but above this height is 1,000 m or more.
Haze/smoke/dusttiny dry particles suspended in the air, such as smoke or industrial pollution, which reduces visibility.
Drifting/blowing snowboth conditions satisfied by snow that has fallen to the ground and is then raised by strong winds; however, only blowing snow seriously affects the visibility at eye level (heavy blowing snow will severely affect both vertical and horizontal visibility; heavy drifting snow will severely affect the horizontal visibility below eye level).
Drifting/blowing sand/dust
sand/dust whirls
are well-developed features, unlikely to be experienced in the UK.
Thunderstormalways report a single rumble of thunder, even if the thunderstorm is obviously a considerable distance away.
Funnel cloudforms from cumulonimbus, characterised by rapid rotation and a downward extension of the dark cloud base towards the ground, often with loose material and debris raised and flung out of the circulation (if the associated intense wind circulation reaches the ground, the phenomena becomes a tornado — the huge convective clouds that produce these phenomena always have dark, ragged bases).
Squalloccurs when the mean wind speed increases suddenly by at least 16 kn (3 Beaufort forces) to a new mean of at least 22 kn (Beaufort force 6), and the increase lasts for at least one minute. Squalls are usually associated with thunderstorms and active cold fronts. Like funnel clouds, squalls are not reported as often as they might be because precipitation is often falling at the same time and this warrants the use of a higher code figure.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service's Glossary

This is American rather than British, so it's further down the page. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 'do' hurricanes - see National Hurricane Center (told you they were American...)

They also 'do' the National Weather Service. Their website has a glossary of weather terms that they use. For example: "a blizzard is a storm which contains large amounts of snow or blowing snow, with winds in excess of 35 mph (16km/h) and visibility of less than 1/4 mile for an extended period of time (at least 3 hours)." By the way, the Oxford English Dictionary says that one meaning of blizzard is "A sharp blow or knock; a shot" and that may be the original meaning.


It may seem strange to put this on a weather page, but the descriptions are rather like the Beaufort Scale, so I thought they belonged on the same page. The Mercalli intensity scale is a scale used for measuring the intensity of an earthquake. The Richter magnitude is mostly obsolete, although frequently quoted.

1 detected only by seismographs< 3
2feeblejust noticeable by some people3 - 3.4
3slightsimilar to passing of heavy lorries3.5 - 4
4moderaterocking of loose objects4.1 - 4.4
5quite strongfelt by most people even when sleeping4.5 - 4.8
6strongtrees rock and some structural damage is caused4.9 - 5.4
7very strongwalls crack5.5 - 6
8destructiveweak buildings collapse6.1 - 6.5
9ruinoushouses collapse and ground pipes crack6.6 - 7
10disastrouslandslides occur, ground cracks and buildings collapse7.1 - 7.3
11very disastrousfew buildings remain standing7.4 - 8.1
12catastrophicground rises and falls in waves> 8.1

Rictus scale

This is a joke suggested by Tom Weller.

MagnitudeObserved Effects
10-3Small articles in local papers
23-5Lead story on local news; mentioned on network news
35-6.5Lead story on network news; wire-service photos appear in newspapers nationally; governor visits scene
46.5-7.5Network correspondents sent to scene; president visits area; commemorative T-shirts appear
57.5 upCovers of weekly news magazines; network specials; "instant books" appear

Native American full moon names

The moon shouldn't really be here either, and these are native American rather than British, but I like them, so here they are!

These names date back to the northern and eastern United States native Americans of a few hundred years ago. These names were applied to the whole month. There were some variations but generally, the same ones were used throughout the Algonquin tribes from New England to Lake Superior. European settlers created names of their own.

MonthMoon nameReasonOther names
JanuaryFull Wolf Moonwhen the hungry wolves would come close to the villagesOld Moon, Moon after Yule
FebruaryFull Snow Moonwhen the heaviest snowfalls happenFull Hunger Moon (because hunting becomes difficult)
MarchFull Worm Moonwhen the ground softens and the earthworm casts reappear, inviting the return of the robins. Full Crow Moon (the cawing of crows signals the end of winter)
Full Crust Moon (the snow cover becomes crusted from thawing by day and freezing at night)
Full Sap Moon (because maple trees are tapped now)
AprilFull Pink MoonThe grass pink, or wild ground phlox, is one of the earliest widespread flowers of spring.Full Sprouting Grass Moon
Egg Moon
Full Fish Moon (the shad came upstream to spawn)
Paschal Full Moon (the first full moon of the spring season -the first Sunday following the Paschal Moon is Easter Sunday)
MayFull Flower MoonThere are lots of flowers in this monthFull Corn Planting Moon or the Milk Moon
JuneFull Strawberry MoonRose Moon (Europeans)
JulyFull Buck Moonwhen the new antlers of buck deer push out from their foreheadsFull Thunder Moon (thunderstorms are frequent, Full Hay Moon
AugustFull Sturgeon Moonwhen this large fish of the Great Lakes and other major bodies of water, such as Lake Champlain, is most eaily caughtFull Red Moon (moon appears red through sultry haze)
Green Corn Moon, Grain Moon
Full Corn Moonused to keep the Harvest Moon from coming too early in the calendarFruit Moon
SeptemberFull Harvest Moonwhen corn, pumpkins, squash, beans and wild rice (the chief Indian staples) are harvested. This is closest to the Autumnal Equinox. At the peak of the harvest, farmers can work into the night by the light of this moon.
OctFull Hunter’s Moonwhen hunters can ride over the stubble since the fields have been reaped, and can more easily see the foxes and other animals that have come out to glean
NovFull Beaver Moonwhen the beaver traps are set before the swamps freeze (or because the beavers are now active in their preparation for winterFrosty Moon
DecFull Cold Moonwhen the winter becomes really coldFull Long Night Moon (nights are at their longest and darkest)

I've heard Harvest Moon and Hunters Moon used in England. They are often reddish - I was told that this was caused by the dust from the fields which were now free of crops. There is also a bomber's moon. This happens at any time of year. It means a bright full moon which the German bombers of World War II could use to bomb Britain, so it was something that people were frightened of.