Using clouds to aid in navigation

Discussion in 'Other Skills' started by Terasec, Mar 17, 2018.

  1. Terasec

    Terasec Guide

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    just a random moment today
    As i was sitting in my car watching the clouds
    Noticed they were moving in SE direction
    Couldnt help but think how to use them in navigation
    Clouds change in directoon will be slow so can be used short term
    And upper level clouds are even less prone to change direction
    Just a random thought something i will dwell on further in my outings
     
  2. Niagara

    Niagara Scout

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    I love looking up and around to see what I might be able to glean from clouds, wind direction, changing sky conditions, etc.
    I wish I could feel more confident about results... but in the end I try and prepare for anything cause you just get what you get out there.
    Niagara
     
  3. Jim L.

    Jim L. Guide

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    I would think cloud direction to be too random.

    (WARNING: random trivia)
    The Vikings used a piece of Icelandic quartz (won't work with any other stone) to determine the direction of the sun for navigation. They did some pretty astounding feats of point "A" to point "B" navigation.

    The moon can also be used to find N/S if you can't see Polaris.
     
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  4. arleigh

    arleigh Guide

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    In my location clouds can move from the north, south east and west . most often from the south west off the pacific .This particular area they can swirl .
    Clouds/winds are an unreliable source of navigation here.
    Navigation with out a compass or map with heavy overcast or storm conditions your better of staying put till conditions change .
    I have deliberately put my self in such conditions to experience the feelings of vertigo as it were . much like being in a photographic developing dark room ,no lights of any sort to identify one's proximity . may be the sound of a ventilation fan for reference . turn off the fan and it's really dark.
    I've walked out in a heavy snow storm in the open area of a dry lake bed during a day time "white out" , and the feeling was about the same . no sound and no reference to home.
    Best thing to do is wait . conditions will change eventually .
    If you panic and push to move, and can't actually see where your going, it could be fatal .
     
  5. Yknpdlr

    Yknpdlr Tracker

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    In any given region on earth, the prevailing wind tends to most often come from a limited range of directions. Here, where I am in the Northeast U.S., the wind tends to come from the west or southwest unless a storm has recently happened or is about to happen. If I am in a clear weather pattern, not during a change of weather, then I can normally assume that the wind will be coming from the prevailing westerly direction. That may not be strictly true at ground level due to terrain effects, but fair weather clouds will generally be moving toward the east or northeast. Looking up I can tell my earthbound direction from that fact on most days. When I was a navigator flying for the Air Force, unless we knew differently from the weather shop, for planning day purposes we always assumed the wind was coming from 270 degrees at 50 knots when at altitude over most of North America.

    When hiking the backcountry, I also make note of the wind direction at my level during the day. If the wind direction seems to change relative to my travel, then I will find the reason. Maybe due to terrain effects, or a change of weather coming in, or maybe I have made a turn I did not plan making.

    It is just one more tool in the navigator's skill set. As with any other navigation tool or direction indicator, if it doesn't make sense with all the other indicators, then you must understand why before putting a lot of faith in it at the moment. The topic of this thread is using clouds to aid in navigation. The answer is yes you can, you should use all of the available navigation clues you have, but with caution, as you never want to put all your eggs in one basket.


    If you have a prevailing direction of wind, it probably has an effect on tree growth. Note trees on hill tops or on the crest of ridge lines. Spruce or pine trees will typically have wind directed growth with shorter branches on the windward side and longer branches growing on the lee side. Tree trunks may be permanently bent over away from the prevailing wind direction. In the photo below of trees on an island in obvious calm water (no wind) , I can tell with confidence that I am looking north, due to my prevailing wind direction coming from the west, even though the wind is not blowing at the moment. As this a nice day, the cloud in the background is most likely moving east as well.
    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2018
  6. UAHiker

    UAHiker Supporter Supporter

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    do tell :)

    there's a book i'm reading called " the lost art of reading natures signs" and the author mentions this in the book as well. really good book btw
     
  7. Yknpdlr

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    Yes it can, even in the daytime (when it is visible). It works best if it is paritally illuminated (before first quarter or after 3rd quarter), not very good if it is near full. It pays to know a few stars as well throughout the year. If you know the approximate time and date and can recognize a few stars or planets, you can tell directions as easily as you can with Polaris. Of course that means you have the interest and inclination to be aware of such things.

    From a Land Navigation course that I teach:
    [​IMG]
     
  8. DuctTape

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    Using the moon is easiest when a crescent, but can also be done in other phases. With a crescent, from the topmost "point", trace a line to the bottomost point and continue that line to the horizon. The point at the horizon will be due South.
     
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  9. DuctTape

    DuctTape Scout

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    Ykpadl hit send moments before me, and he provided a visual for the win!
     
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  10. Terasec

    Terasec Guide

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    Does this work on both waxing and waning stages?
     
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  11. Yknpdlr

    Yknpdlr Tracker

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    Either way, but less than half illuminated works best. It depends on visually locating the top and bottom cusps of the illuminated part of the moon's surface.
     
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  12. Jim L.

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    Exactly. Thanks for the visuals.

    Another note, i believe Orion's Belt gives an approximation of NNW/SSE. Correct me if I'm wrong.
     
  13. Yknpdlr

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    Correct. To the NW the 3 stars point toward Aldebaran, the red-orange eye of the bull in Taurus. To the SE they point toward Sirius, which should be easily identifiable as the brightest night time visible star in any season.
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2018
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  14. Leshy_apprentice

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    There was a book I read years ago written by a WWII pilot, I believe. I think he also taught military navigation over his career. Can't remember if he was American or British. The book was called "Finding Your Way Without Map or Compass" by Harold Gatty. Of course, he recommends having a map and compass in the first place, but the book talks about other navigation aids and signs one can use to navigate with varying degrees of accuracy as a backup or supplement to map and compass. These days, GPS would also be a recommended carry, even if it isn't your primary tool. I keep a GPS on me in the backcountry as a backup, not to be relied on exclusively but a good supplemental navigation tool to have in an emergency for sure.

    Gatty discussed clouds, wind, and weather signs as you are looking for. Many other signs, natural and cultural, are also included. There is a lot about sea birds for navigation at sea. It touches on using your senses, tree growth patterns in relation to direction/solar exposure/prevailing wind, star/solar/lunar direction aids, terrain navigation, navigation at sea, directional cues from human settlement and buildings, and lots of other interesting factoids.

    The big takeaway is to observe as many indicators as possible and see what consensus they point to for direction. Some methods are more precise than others, and should be weighted accordingly in your assessment. But he recommends cross-checking many indications rather than relying on a single indicator, because that single indicator may be off. I agree with that advice myself.
     
  15. Yknpdlr

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    I've had that book for a while. It was good to read that much of what I was self-taught was discussed in the book. Another unique cultural clue I have heard is if you are in the mid-east or any of the Muslim dominated countries, if you come across a cemetery or grave headstone, it will be orientated toward the direction of Mecca.

    My point has always been to take into account all possible navigation clues. They are everywhere if you know how to look for them. Even to the extent that as you head into a wooded area, for example, note which side of the trees moss is growing on. Of course moss doesn't always grow only on the north side of trees (where it is damper and away from direct sun), but it may be more likely there if you make note of that fact in a specific area.

    I also always say, if any one clue does not make sense with the others, figure out why you should either discount it or rely upon it (including an apparently haywire compass). Or perhaps moss just grows everywhere in this area I've stumbled upon on these kinds of trees. More of that kind of thinking might decrease the all too frequent unnecessary instant cell phone SAR calls to rangers in recent years from perfectly healthy people, saying such as: "I don't know where I am and I'm tired, could you send a helicopter to pick me up please?" [it happens]. Take a couple minutes to sit down and assess the situation, self-extraction may be a lot easier than you think.
     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2018
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  16. Seahunter

    Seahunter Scout Bushclass I Bushclass II

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    I read another one of his (Tristan Gooley) books called "The Natural Navigator". I liked it. He talks about using clouds, wind swept trees, sand dunes, and snow banks to determine the prevailing wind and then navigate by these features. His website has some good stuff on it too.
    https://www.naturalnavigator.com/find-your-way-using/weather
     
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