Weather Preparedness Part 2: Low-Tech Survival

Part 2 of our weather survival series explores several techniques you can use to detect severe weather without power or technology, increasing your preparation time and chances of survival long before the threat is imminent.

Part 1

If you missed it be sure to read Weather Preparedness Part 1: The Top 4 Killers where we covered the often underestimated weather killers and how to survive them should you find yourself stranded and away from adequate shelter.

Watch the sky, not your smart phone

Weather SurvivalOur increasingly technology-obsessed culture has created a deep reliance on gizmos and gadgets to make daily life more predictable. This includes weather forecasting and extreme weather alerting.

However, in a survival situation you may find your self with low- or no technology. No weather radio broadcasting updates every hour or smart phones giving the latest weather conditions.

But with the right observational knowledge and a little practice, you’ll be able to confidently identify threatening weather situations with your five senses alone. These skills can give you critical time you need to prepare and may just save your life.

Hurricane Survival1. Know your Geography

Weather is largely determined by where you live. Awareness of your geography is the first and most important step in understanding what kinds of weather threats to expect, and when to expect them.

These can include:

  • Hurricanes along gulf and seaboard states
  • Blizzards in the northern and eastern states
  • Flash Flooding in central states, especially along rivers
  • Tornadoes in the central and southern plains

Every survivalist should be well versed in the weather threats for his or her own geography, and have evacuation kits or other prepared resources in advance to deal with them.

2. Time of Day, Time of Year

Time and DayYou don’t need to become an expert on weather hazards, but a little knowledge can go a long way in survival situations.

Most thunderstorms, and consequently tornadoes, occur between 2:00 and 6:00 PM during the months of April, May, and June. Whatever the threat for your area, you should be especially vigilant during these periods.

If you live in Tornado Alley and see towering cumulus on a Spring afternoon, internal warning bells should be sounding.

3. Read the Wind

Fire requires three elements to burn: oxygen, fuel, and an ignition source. Thunderstorms, like fire, require three essential elements to form:

  1. Instability in the atmosphere (cold air over warm air)
  2. Humidity (the fuel)
  3. “Lift” (the ignition source) which usually comes in the form of a cold or warm front.

Thunderstorm SurvivalThe key ingredient in all of this is humidity. Thunderstorms can’t form without deep levels of moisture in the atmosphere. You’ve probably noticed that thunderstorms tend to break out on hot, humid days. This is why.

Since most of the humidity in the continental U.S. comes from the Gulf of Mexico, the discerning survivalist will know that days with a steady southerly wind are indications of thunderstorm potential within the next 12-24 hours.

4. Read the Sky

Weather Field GuideAny survivalist should be able to read his/her environment and make quick judgments. That includes reading the sky and cloud formations.

There are many books and free resources on the Internet to help you identify sky phenomena. But the general rule is this: vertically growing clouds = bad weather. The taller the cloud, the worse the weather. In the case of severe storms, you should actually be able to see the cloud growing skyward in real-time.

Worth special mention is if rotation is present in the cloud you are observing. Any type of horizontal rotation along the base of a thunderstorm, also known as ‘wall cloud’, is particularly hazardous because it is the precursor to tornadoes.


Rory Groves is a weather preparedness expert and developer of Weather Defender, desktop weather software designed to protect families and communities from severe weather.

Top Photo by: snarl

18 thoughts on “Weather Preparedness Part 2: Low-Tech Survival”

  1. Doppler forecasts are great for PLANNED events. If you are going on a hike next week or going to the beach, etc… but if you want up to date weather report… watch your surroundings.

    I can normally "feel" a storm coming… you can actually smell it if you pay attention… If you don't trust your nose watch the birds. Wildlife is more intune with the weather than we are… if you notice an absence of birds, squirrels, or other little critters that are normally about… something is up. — and it's a good time for to pay attention for dangerous things like weather and predators.

  2. It's always shocking how quiet it gets before something happens in nature. When you're away from all of the noise we produce and you get used to the sounds of nature around when it stops you know, and you should be ready for something not so happy.

    Also Doppler Forecasts are as always a GUESS of what will happen, they're better then it used to be, but where I live they're still wrong about 60% of the time. I need a job where I can be wrong half the time and keep it.

  3. Great Article. I've found your website yesterday, and am going through it page by page backwards.

    I'm brand new to survival prep, at least physically, I've always thought about scenarios in my head, but yesterday I had this feeling that I needed to actually DO something. If I were to Bug In, I'd be ok for a bit, my current home is well stocked on food and I'm lucky enough to have a spring feed cistern for my water source. I also have the right mindset, which to me is the most important thing any prepper needs.

    I will admit that I've thought the negatvie stereotypes of "Survivalists" before, but the older I get, the more it looks like something could spark a world wide disaster. So I come here humbled with eyes open ready to learn.

  4. I agree with some of the comments. You can smell thunderstorms coming. I can feel them coming up to 24+ hours in advanced – yay arthritis. The wind will start to pick up before a storm hits, generally I always notice a significant drop in temperature right before the rain hits. If your bugging out in tornado alley and the S has HTF and you see a wall cloud – forget about your tent! Grab your Bag and get to suitable shelter right then, if you haven't already.

    Heck, I've been rolled around in my tent with normal great plains winds. I hope to never find myself camping during a tornado. I prolly just jinxed myself.
    __ __ __

    Also, I'm in the same boat as Mikelaw. Recently found this site on accident – I was looking for something for my dorm room. I have also held negative stereotypes in the past – as I think many people do. I decided planning for natural disasters isn't a bad thing. I've always been mostly prepared for a bug-in scenario before and have bugged in for up to a week against ice storms – without knowing to call it that. Also been prepped to grab certain things and jump in the tornado shelter.

    I'm one of the people that stands in the driveway/outside/ at the nearest largest window with a view with people crying 'looks like a tornados coming' (I no long live in the alley) and goes – 'nah not dark enough'

  5. I copied this article from

    "Check out what just came out from the University of South Carolina in Columbia: a Death Map. Researchers analyzed mortality data from the last 40 years and determined where in the country you were more prone to die from extreme heat, freezing cold, hurricanes, storms and other natural phenomena. Skip the northern Great Plains region in summer, since it’s particularly prone to heat and drought then, and make sure to avoid the Rocky Mountains in winter, which are a don’t-go-there location due to freezing weather and floods."

    Here is just one link:

    There are many others, check them out. This just came out on on 9/23/10. It is about the most common areas where you could die from the elements.

  6. Just a heads up: Warm fronts will not produce thunderstorms, as warm fronts provide stable atmospheric conditions. Due to the large area of moisture associated with warm fronts expect a long period of continuous rain and/or drizzle. The main significance of a warm front is that it leaves a large amount of low level moisture in its wake. So, during the summer, after warm frontal passage, there is plenty of available moisture at the surface that can be lifted due to convection (daytime max heating periods) to kick off more airmass type thunderstorms.

  7. The Malinois is a great choice. My mother is a K9 trainer for several local PD's and the Malinois is her demo dog. Very intelligent and definitely fits all of the criteria listed by adventureK9(YT). Additionally they have less health problems then Shepherds as they have not been over bread. That being said another great bread in IMHO is the Beauceron. Similar to Shepherds and Malinois they are a working line dog and are commonly used by military and police departments. Extremely intelligent, loyal, very trainable, most agile dog i have ever seen, unbelievably strong, great with kids, cautious of strangers but not scared (so no worry that they might might bite the wrong person), and fierce looking (if ears are cropped). They look like a cross between a Rottweiler and Doberman. They are less common in the US, at one point I think I heard there are only like 5,000 and I have yet to meet someone (other than myself) that owns one.

    A bread of dog is a very personal choice, but whatever bread one goes with, if you are preparing for a SHTF scenario it is extremely important to make sure to pick the right dog within that bread. As each bread has its pros and cons each individually dog within that breed may not live up to your expectations. If purchasing a dog, make sure you do your homework on the particular lineage of the dog and the breeder. If you are unsure on what to look for in a puppy to get the atributes you want as an adult take a trainer with you. Although nothing is 100% and even the most well trained and experience trainer is no guarantee, it will extremely increase your chances of getting a dog to fit your particular needs.

    The other critical component to all is this is the training, regardless of whatever breed it is or how great of an individual dog you get, if its not trained it will become a liability. Make sure to socialize the dog with people and and other animals and work with it on obedience on and off the leash. Because we are talking about worst case situations you maybe unable to handle a leash (i.e. Injury, carrying items or family members) the dog needs to be under your control at all times. This requires a lot of work and preparation by both the owner and the dog.

    I personally think that the dog should be trained for attack work (think police k9's). But not every bread is cut out for such training. Even breeds that are (Shepherds, Malinois, Beauceron etc) not every dog in that breed has the temperament for it. So whatever breed it is, it imperative to know the individual dogs strengths and limitations prior to the SHTF.

    • I think it is worthwhile to note that you should also stand on your tippy-toes to reduce the total contact with the ground as much as possible, also that lightning strikes many times without warning and can even strike from very far away when the weather seems not so bad.

  8. good points however you are mistaken on one thing moss does grow in trees in the west i live in Oregon and lived in Washington when i was a kid there is moss on trees however it grows on all sides so it does not work for a compass 🙂

  9. Live in "Tornado Alley" so I am intimately aware of the weather dangers out here. I always listen for the tornado sirens in the afternoons from April through June and just about anytime until winter sets in again. I also am constantly keeping an eye on the sky.

  10. It is very nice to see this website and it's really informative for the readers. It is really nice to see the best information presented in an easy and understanding manner.
    Thank you.


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