Successful gardening requires a basic understanding of the weather. Meteorologists can accurately forecast the weather for more than a week in advance, but sometimes when we’re gardening, we need to know what to expect a little sooner. Some weather features such as individual showers can be too small to be resolved by a computer model. By looking skyward, we can tell with reasonable accuracy what the weather will be like in the next few hours. 

The sun is the driving force of all weather on Earth. The sun’s radiant energy heats the Earth unevenly due to the different surfaces: water, land masses, vegetation and atmospheric gases. Because the Earth is slightly tilted, the rays of the sun shine more directly on the equator than the poles. This uneven heating creates atmospheric pressure differences resulting in the mass movement of air on a global scale. Wind always moves from high pressure to low pressure in an attempt to become more stable.

Because of the wind, weather doesn’t just stay in one place. The jet stream is a river of fast moving air high in the atmosphere that moves the weather as it flows. These mid-latitude winds are called the prevailing westerlies. As a result, the weather in the United States general moves from west to east. Winds traveling closer to the ground are more influenced by the terrain. In Kansas, the prevailing surface winds usually come from the south. Over the course of many years, certain weather conditions become typical of a local area. The usual weather, as well as the not so unusual extremes, come to define the local climate.   

The condition of the sky offers the biggest clue to the forthcoming weather. Light a small fire like a Tiki torch. In high pressure, the smoke will rise straight up. High pressure is associated with fair weather. If the atmospheric pressure is low or falling, the smoke will curl around the flame or close to the ground.

Low pressure is associated with winds and precipitation. A red sky in the morning means that bad weather is heading your way later that day. Why is that? Because the sun is shining through dust particles rising in the atmosphere indicating good weather to the east. A low pressure zone will try to fill that void, bringing bad weather from the west, because that’s the direction our weather moves, west to east. As bad weather approaches, the cloud cover will lower and darken. A red sky at night indicates fair weather to the west which will be headed your way soon. Consequently, a rainbow in the west means the sun’s rays are shining through moisture, a sign that rain is coming toward you.  Tornadoes are most common in Kansas from April through June. They often form during intense, violent thunderstorms. Although they can occur any time of day, they most often occur between 4-9 p.m. Remember, lightening is present in all thunderstorms and is one of the leading weather-related causes of injury and death in the U.S. If you’re working in the garden or anywhere you can see lightening or hear thunder, you’re in range of a potential strike. Standing in an open field or under a tall tree is one of the most dangerous places you can be. If you experience any of the following you’re in imminent danger of a direct strike: a soft buzzing, crackling or hissing electrical sound, a tingly vibrating sensation or your hair begins to stands on end. In addition to the flash that travels through the air, lightening also travels through objects and along the ground. Take cover immediately in a house or other substantial structure. A garden shed provides no protection from lightening.   

Learn to read the signs of weather and plan your gardening activities accordingly.

Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth. For more information, visit The Minnis Rose Garden on Facebook. Contact them at