“How do storm glasses work?” Part Two: The Testing

My retro weather center. The storm glass is on the right, making its bold prediction of cloudy skies in Chicago in winter. The glass tube on the left is Galileo's thermometer. We'll talk about how/if that sucker works some other time. (Photo: Shala Howell)

My retro weather center. The storm glass is on the right, making its bold prediction of cloudy skies in Chicago in winter. The glass tube on the left is Galileo’s thermometer. We’ll talk about how/if that sucker works some other time.
(Photo: Shala Howell)

About two weeks ago, after noticing that our replica storm glass had been predicting cloudy skies more or less continuously since we acquired it six months ago, The Nine-Year-Old and I began to wonder how storm glasses worked. You can read our initial research on the topic here.

In a nutshell, we learned that storm glasses are not very reliable weather predictors.  According to a series of tests performed in Cecil Adam’s lab at the Straight Dope, storm glasses only correctly predict rain about half the time.

Which got us wondering, if the storm glass isn’t reacting to changes in local weather conditions to make its predictions, what is it reacting to?

The Top Contenders

Further research narrowed the candidates to three contenders: changes in pressure, light, or temperature. Since it was early February (and felt like it), we decided that testing the effect of temperature changes would be the easiest. So we did that first.

Our Hypothesis

The storm glass will react to changes in temperature, most likely by forming more crystals at lower temperatures.

Our Methodology

Our plan for testing our hypothesis was simple: We’d move the storm glass in front of a working window. When we wanted to cool things down, we’d open the window. When it was time to warm things up again, we’d close the window.

Since the average daytime temperatures outside that week were in the 20s and 30s and our temperature inside is more or less in the low 70s, we expected this simple trick would let us change the temperature easily by some 30 or 40 degrees. That should be more than enough to determine whether the crystals in the storm glass are responding to changes in temperature.

To keep things simple, we decided to use the master bathroom. It’s a fairly small room with a dedicated radiator, so the bathroom both cools off and warms back up again pretty quickly.

Mommyo extracted the electronic meat thermometer Daddyo had gotten for Christmas from Daddyo’s cooking drawer. When The Nine-Year-Old tried it in the bathroom, she found that it was both easy to read and seemed to measure the ambient temperature well. The experiment was on.

Our Equipment

The equipment requirements for this experience were pretty straight-forward. To conduct it, we needed:

  • The storm glass itself
  • A working window with ledge and screen
  • Thermometer
  • Lab notebook & pen for recording observations
  • Digital camera to record crystal formations
  • Piece of blue paper to provide a consistent background for the test photos

Our Process 

Step 1: Move the storm glass to the test environment.

Two days before the experiment was to begin, we moved the storm glass to the master bathroom to allow it to adjust to its new environment. We observed it every morning and evening, and when its crystal formation appeared to have stabilized, we began the tests.

Step 2: Record the storm glass’s appearance and its ambient temperature at steady state.

Initial crystal configuration at the start of the experiment. Note the pale crystal at the tip of the storm glass, well above the liquid, as well as the cool mushroom cloud like crystal about halfway down the glass. (Photo: Shala Howell)

Initial crystal configuration at the start of the experiment. Note the pale crystal at the tip of the storm glass, well above the liquid, as well as the cool mushroom-like crystal about halfway down the glass. (Photo: Shala Howell)

We also noted the time, weather conditions outside (just in case they were relevant), and took a picture of the initial crystal formation. 

  • Experiment Start Time: 3:55 p.m.
  • Ambient Temperature: 71°F
  • Weather Outside: Cold! 25°F, cloudy, no rain or snow
  • Crystal Appearance: Crystals at the top, large mushroom-like crystal in mid-section
  • Associated Weather Prediction: Thunderstorms, we think
  • Storm Glass Position: Window ledge inside master bath, window closed

Step 3: Lower the ambient temperature.

We opened the window, closed the door to the bathroom, and set a timer to remind ourselves to check on the storm glass in about 2 hours.

Step 4: Wait two hours, then record any changes. 

Photo taken from the side so that you can see the sliding formation of crystals. (Photo: Shala Howell)

Photo taken from the side so that you can see the sliding formation of crystals. (Photo: Shala Howell)

After two hours, the large mushroom crystal was replaced with a mass of dense, but fluffy looking crystals. The mass was distinctly taller on the side closest to the window screen (the colder side).

  • Current Time: 6:15 p.m.
  • Lapsed Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
  • Ambient Temperature: 52°F
  • Weather Outside: Still very cold. 20°F, cloudy, no snow or rain
  • Crystal Appearance: Lots of dense crystals, more on the side facing the window
  • Associated Weather Prediction: The Nine-Year-Old thinks this crystal formation is best described as murky liquid, so we’re going with rain.
  • Storm Glass Position: Window ledge next to the screen, on the exterior of the glass itself, but with the window open so that the storm glass was still exposed to heat from the bathroom.

Step 5: Warm the room up again.

We moved the storm glass back to the inside window ledge and closed the window. We set a timer for two hours, but got caught up in a really good episode of Netflix’s Series of Unfortunate Events. We may have decided that science (and bedtime) could wait for the end of the episode.

Step 6: Some time later, check the storm glass again, and record any changes.

Photo: Shala Howell

Photo: Shala Howell

The dense mass of crystals is definitely getting smaller. It’s back to looking a bit mushroomy, even.

  • Current Time: 10 p.m.
  • Lapsed Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes
  • Ambient Temperature: 73°F
  • Weather Outside: 14°F
  • Crystal Appearance: The mass of crystals appears to be dissolving as the storm glass warms up
  • Associated Weather Prediction: Rain?
  • Storm Glass Position: Window ledge inside master bathroom with window closed

Step 7: Review your testing methodology and adjust it as necessary.

Based on the results of Steps 1-6, it seemed pretty clear to us that more crystals form at colder temperatures. But simply opening and closing the window next to the storm glass only created about a 20-degree variance in ambient temperature. We wanted to see if we could do better than that.

So we decided to place the storm glass out on the exterior portion of the ledge between the window glass and the screen, and close the window behind it. This would keep the storm glass from receiving warmth from the air inside during the experiment. And as The Nine-Year-Old, who becomes more self-sustainable every year pointed out, closing the window would be more energy-efficient too.

Step 8: Record the storm glass’s appearance and local conditions before applying the new test parameters.

If the crystals look like clouds, does that mean we'll have clouds? (Photo: Shala Howell)

If the crystals look like clouds, does that mean we’ll have clouds? (Photo: Shala Howell)

  • Current time: 10:06 a.m.
  • Lapsed time: 12 hours, 6 minutes
  • Ambient temperature: 73°F
  • Weather Outside: Cold! 29°F, little wind
  • Crystal Appearance: A large portion of the crystals dissolved over night
  • Associated Weather Prediction: We can’t tell. Cold?
  • Storm Glass Position: Window ledge inside bath with window closed

Step 9: Cool things down according to the new specifications.  

To do this, we placed the storm glass on the portion of the ledge between the window glass and the window screen. Then we closed the window, and set a timer for one hour.

Step 10: Wait one hour, and then see what’s changed. 

Photo: Shala Howell

Photo: Shala Howell

Holy cow, that closed window made a big difference!

Even though the testing period was much shorter — less than half the time of the previous cold exposure in Step 4 — the crystal formation was much more impressive. The crystals were so dense in fact that The Nine-Year-Old and Mommyo had a heated discussion about their nature. Was this what the storm glass text describes as murky water, or was the whole thing simply frozen over?

  • Current Time: 11:08 a.m.
  • Lapsed Time: 62 minutes
  • Ambient Temp: 32°F
  • Weather Outside: 29°F, clear
  • Crystal Appearance: The crystals are still at the top, but the rest of it is what The Nine-Year-Old calls murky water and Mommyo calls a slushy mess.
  • Associated Weather Prediction: So much rain
  • Storm Glass Position: Window ledge next to screen, with the glass window closed.

Step 11: Warm things up again.

We brought the storm glass back inside and closed the window. We set a timer for one hour, to see if the crystals in the storm glass reacted to being in warmer air as dramatically as they do to being in the cold.

Step 12: Wait one hour then, record the changes. 

Photo: Shala Howell

Photo: Shala Howell

Well, that was sort of dramatic. I mean, half of the crystals are gone now, but there’s still a lot of dense slush there.

  • Current Time: 12:15 p.m.
  • Lapsed Time: 67 minutes later
  • Ambient Temp: 72°F
  • Weather Outside: 32°F
  • Crystal Appearance: One-third to one-half of the slushy mess has dissolved away
  • Associated Weather Prediction: This is still probably murky water, so we are going  with rain
  • Storm Glass Position: Inside with the window closed

Step 13: Wait another 30 minutes and record the changes.

Photo: Shala Howell

Photo: Shala Howell

There was some more melting (excuse me, dissolving), in response to the warmer conditions, but not really a lot. The storm glass was now only half-full at best of mush. The crystals are a lot less dense too.

  • Current Time: 12:54 p.m.
  • Lapsed Time: 39 minutes later
  • Ambient Temp: 70°F
  • Weather Outside: 32°F
  • Crystal Appearance: Definitely down to 1/2 of the slushy mess has dissolved away
  • Associated Weather Prediction: Rain?
  • Storm Glass Position: Inside with the window closed

Step 14: Leave the storm glass alone for several hours, then return to record the changes.

The Nine-Year-Old and I both wanted to move on to doing things outside the house at this point, so we made a Caterpickles agreement that we would go live our life and let whatever happened to the storm glass in the intervening hours go undetected. We did check it once more at bedtime, but I apparently forgot to photograph it, so you’ll have to take our word for what we found.

Over the intervening 8 or so hours, even more of the crystals dissolved away. The dense mass had retreated to the bottom third of the storm glass. The rest of it was back to being clear liquid.

  • Current Time: 9 p.m.
  • Lapsed Time: 8 hours, 6 minutes later
  • Ambient Temp: 70°F
  • Weather Outside: 20°F
  • Crystal Appearance: Two-thirds of the slushy mess has dissolved away, leaving a mass of dense crystals at the bottom of the storm glass
  • Associated Weather Prediction: Still going with rain
  • Storm Glass Position: Inside with the window closed

Step 15: Leave the storm glass alone overnight. Return in the morning to see if anything else has changed.

Any further changes were so slight, they were hard to detect. The Nine-Year-Old was pretty certain that the crystals only covered the bottom quarter of the storm glass, instead of the bottom third. So we’re going with that. Still no pictures. Apparently our camera man quit.

  • Current Time: 9:15 a.m.
  • Lapsed time: 12 hours, 15 minutes
  • Ambient Temp: 70°F
  • Weather Outside: 36°F
  • Crystal Appearance: Crystals down to 25%
  • Storm Glass Position: Inside with the window closed

Given the length of time that had passed and the very slight change in the crystal formation, The Nine-Year-Old and I decided that this was probably the storm glass’s new steady state, and ended the experiment.

Conclusion:

After our brute force temperature experiment, The Nine-Year-Old and I are pretty convinced that temperature variables are a big factor in crystal formation.  The crystals formed quite rapidly in response to drops in temperature, but retreated at a more sedate pace as the storm glass warmed back up.

However, after the dose of cold in Step 10 that turned the contents of the storm glass to slush, the character of the crystals changed. No longer the light, flaky fern-like crystals we had at the beginning, these new crystals are dense, gritty, and far less attractive.

We moved the storm glass back to the office, hoping that mass would go away. It’s been a week now, and while there are some fluffy crystals at the top of the crystal formation, that dense ugly mass is still there.

Inquiring Janes want to know: "Did we break it?" (Photo: Shala Howell)

Inquiring Janes want to know: “Did we break it?” (Photo: Shala Howell)

So naturally, now we want to know, “Did we break it?” Or as The Nine-Year-Old put it this morning, “How do we reset this thing?”

Based on the results of our tests last week, a more aggressive form of heat is clearly called for. How we plan to accomplish it is a post for another day.

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Night Sky Watch: The moon helps Mommyo spot Saturn

Saturn will follow the moon across the predawn sky on February 20-21. (Illustration: Andrew Fazekas, SkySafari)

Saturn will follow the moon across the predawn sky on February 20. The next night, the moon will appear to be on the other side of Saturn. (Illustration: Andrew Fazekas, SkySafari)

The moon is really working over time to help me spot things in the night sky this month. Tonight and tomorrow, it’s pairing up with Saturn. The best view is, sadly, just before dawn.

Still, Andrew Fazekas at National Geographic tells me that even the smallest telescopes can give you a peek at Saturn’s famous rings. That just might make getting up at Stupid O’Clock to catch the predawn show worth it.

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Night Sky Watch: The moon helps Mommyo spot Jupiter and Spica

Artist's rendering of tomorrow morning's Moon/Spica/Jupiter celestial grouping. (Illustration: Andrew Facekas, SkySafari)

Artist’s rendering of tomorrow morning’s Moon/Spica/Jupiter celestial grouping. (Illustration: Andrew Fazekas, SkySafari)

Not content with merely helping us spot Regulus earlier this month, the moon continues its guided tour of the night sky with a stop near Jupiter and Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo. The best view will be in the southwestern sky at dawn tomorrow. Because, of course, it will be.

If this keeps up, I may have to rename this series the Predawn Sky Watch. Or even more accurately, the Stupid O’Clock Sky Watch. Can we please have an astronomical event at a reasonable hour next time?

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Night Sky Watch: The moon helps Mommyo find Regulus

The moon will be right next to Regulus, the brightest star in the Leo constellation tonight. (Illustration: Andrew Fazekas of SkySafari)

The moon will be right next to Regulus, the brightest star in the Leo constellation tonight. (Illustration: Andrew Fazekas of SkySafari)

Although I am fascinated by the stars, I’m not terribly good at identifying them. Tonight, though, the moon’s going to help me out. Andrew Fazekas, who writes on the night sky for National Geographic, tells me that tonight, the moon will be hanging out next to Regulus, the brightest star in the Leo constellation. That might just be enough to help me pick Regulus (and Leo himself) out.

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What’s The Nine-Year-Old reading this week?

The Complete Periodic Table by Adrian Dingle (Basher Science Series)
periodictable

What the book’s about:   Adrian Dingle’s Complete Periodic Table devotes a page or two to each of the 115 elements, giving each element a voice, a shape, and a distinct personality. Each entry tells you basic facts about the element (what it’s used for, its major properties, and such), but the science facts are woven into a mini-story format to keep kids reading. 

Why The Nine-Year-Old thinks you’ll like it: “It’s just very interesting. It shows the elements in a way no other book I’ve ever read has. First of all, it’s in manga. I like that they do it so that it seems like the element the entry is about wrote each entry.”

Physics: Why Matter Matters by Dan Green (Basher Science Series) 


physicsWhat the book’s about:
As in The Complete Periodic Table, Dan Green’s Physics: Why Matter Matters presents essential concepts of physics, like energy, force, density, and light waves as manga characters with individual voices and personalities. Each entry includes a quick three-bullet point description of the concept, and a brief first-person monologue in which the character tells his or her own story and the role they play in making the universe tick.

Why The Nine-Year-Old thinks you should pick it up: “I liked that they included Schrödinger’s cat. I’ve only read two books that included Schrödinger’s cat and one was fiction. This book has great appeal. It is by far the best one of the Basher series I’ve checked out so far.”

Speaking of cats…

Your Storm Glass Experiment Update: Stormy Weather

(Photo: Shala Howell)

(Photo: Shala Howell)

The Nine-Year-Old is on the first of her spring breaks and we’re filling the time with science. We’re almost done with the temperature segment of our Storm Glass Experiment Series.

While we were recording the results of the overnight tests this morning, Hurricane Canelo blew into our science lab. I managed to extract the cat before he could corrupt our results with an unauthorized dose of gravity, but it was a close call.

The Nine-Year-Old has sealed the door to the Master Bathroom Science Lab, but I don’t know how long that door will hold out against 13.5 pounds of highly determined cat. He’s already figured out that body-slamming won’t work, so has turned his attention to the door knob. Canelo wouldn’t be the first cat we’ve had who figured the whole door knob thing out.

But then our other cat didn’t have to contend with a wily Nine-Year-Old wielding tuna. Crisis averted. For now.

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Night Sky Watch: Comet passing by Earth again at Stupid O’Clock* tomorrow morning, also penumbral lunar eclipse tonight

This photo of Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova was taken by Michael Jäger of Austria, during an earlier pass on September 29, 2011. (Photo copyright Michael Jäger, 2011)

This photo of Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova was taken by Michael Jäger of Austria, during an earlier pass on September 29, 2011. (Photo copyright Michael Jäger, 2011)

Comet 45P/HMP passes by Earth at dawn tomorrow

If you find yourself up at dawn tomorrow, go ahead and look up into the dawn sky. Who knows? You might just catch a glimpse of Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova swinging past Earth on its way back to the outer solar system.

Discovered in 1948, Comet 45P/HMP is a middle-aged dwarf comet with a nucleus that is roughly half a mile across. Its orbit takes it past the Earth every five years or so.

Dawn watchers should look for the comet near the constellations of Aquila and Hercules.

(In case, you, like me, need help spotting specific constellations in the night sky, check out 15 Constellations Every Man Should Know (And How to Find Them) on The Art of Manliness Blog. There are smartphone apps for spotting constellations, too, of course. We here at Caterpickles Central are partial to Star Walk.)

Don’t feel like getting up at Stupid O’Clock*? That’s ok, there’s a penumbral lunar eclipse tonight.

Starting at 6:14 p.m. EST this evening, sharp-eyed sky watchers in the Americas will be treated to a penumbral lunar eclipse. The views will be best in the eastern portion of North America, as well as Central and South America, but even us Midwesterners might be able to catch a glimpse of the action before the eclipse ends. Maximum shading of the moon is projected to happen at 7:44 p.m. EST.

What’s the difference between a penumbral eclipse and a total lunar eclipse? 

Tonight’s eclipse is what’s called a penumbral eclipse, not a total lunar eclipse. The moon won’t turn red, but will simply be dimmer than usual. That’s because in tonight’s eclipse, the moon is only passing through the penumbral shadow (the edge of the Earth’s shadow), and the light from the sun will only be partially blocked.

In a total lunar eclipse, the moon passes through the Earth’s umbral shadow. There, the Earth fully blocks the light from the sun. Indirect sunlight is still able to reach the moon, however, which is why the moon appears red in a total lunar eclipse, instead of going fully dark.

For more on the various types of lunar eclipses, check out this handy guide for beginners on MrEclipse.com.

* Thanks to The Nine-Year-Old’s Uncle Phil for the phrase, Stupid O’Clock, hands-down our favorite way to refer to the painfully early morning hours. 

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Throwback Thursday: Irony. Defined.

Mommyo, working on a post for Caterpickles: “Daddyo, how do you spell onomatopoeia?”

Daddyo: “I don’t know. Like it sounds?”

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(Not Even Sort of) Wordless Wednesday: Storm Glass Fun

Those crystals apparently mean thunderstorms are coming. Or maybe just that the storm glass is in the bathroom. (Photo: Shala Howell)

Those crystals apparently mean thunderstorms are coming. Or maybe just that the storm glass is in the bathroom. (Photo: Shala Howell)

Two days ago, I moved the storm glass into the master bathroom in preparation for the battery of tests we’re going to subject it to over the weekend. (I wanted the glass to have a couple of days to acclimate to its new environment before we starting changing things up around it.)

This morning I noticed that crystals had formed at the top of the glass. I’ve never seen that before. In theory, that means thunderstorms are headed our way. There’s nothing in the forecast about thunderstorms for the next couple of days, but the Weather Channel has betrayed me once or twice before. Guess we’ll see who’s right.

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“How does a storm glass work?”: Part One, the Pondering

Several months ago, my daughter and I purchased a storm glass from a local science museum. It’s been sitting in the office making the same prediction ever since (according to the writing on the side of the glass, when large flaky crystals form, it means you are to expect cloudy skies and/or snow, if it’s winter).

To be fair, it is winter in Chicago, so yes. The sky is cloudy, and occasionally spits snow on us. In fact, as I type this, Chicago is having its longest stretch of cloudy skies in 25 years.

But our storm glass has been predicting cloudy skies since well before this current stretch began. I can’t be certain, but I think it’s been predicting cloudy skies ever since The Nine-Year-Old and I set up our retro weather center in the office six months ago.

My retro weather center. The storm glass is on the right, making its bold prediction of cloudy skies in Chicago in winter. The glass tube on the left is Galileo's thermometer. We'll talk about how/if that sucker works some other time. (Photo: Shala Howell)

The Caterpickles Central Weather Station. The storm glass is on the right, making its bold prediction of cloudy skies and possible snow in Chicago in winter. The glass tube on the left is Galileo’s thermometer. We’ll talk about how that guy works some other time. (Photo: Shala Howell)

The sameness of it all makes me think that the storm glass’s prediction says more about the conditions in my office than the weather outside.

Which got us wondering — how does a storm glass work anyway? But before we talk about that, let’s take care of some basics.

What is a storm glass?

In most cases,* a storm glass is a sealed glass tube containing a mix of ammonium chloride, potassium nitrate, camphor, distilled water, and alcohol.

In theory, the combination reacts to changes in the environment around it to form (and later dissolve) a variety of crystals. Paying attention to the types of crystals that form is supposed to help you predict what the weather will be like in one or two days’ time.

Clear liquid means fine weather. Large flaky crystals mean cloudy skies, unless they are fern-shaped, in which case they mean wind. Small dots indicate damp, foggy weather, a milky appearance warns of rain, and stars on a bright winter day foretell snow. You get the picture.

Even with the descriptions of what kind of crystals mean which kind of weather, I find using the storm glass to be a bit hit or miss. For example, I’ve been reading the crystals in the storm glass as being large and flaky, meaning clouds. But The Nine-Year-Old describes those very same crystals as fern-shaped, meaning wind. It’s hard to tell which of us is right, because we’re in Chicago in winter. Cloudy and windy? Must be a month containing the letter R.

So do storm glasses work at all? 

My storm glass forecast on January 25. The glare makes this a little hard to see, but the crystals reach to the words "19th Century" printed on the glass. (Photo: Shala Howell)

My storm glass forecast on January 25, 2017. The glare makes this a little hard to see, but the crystals reach to the words “19th Century” printed on the glass. For the record, it was cloudy that day. (Photo: Shala Howell)

Cecil Adams of the Straight Dope has apparently done the definitive study on whether or not storm glasses work. Or rather, his assistants Una and Fierra did. Cecil just wrote it up.

Unwilling to shell out the $179 that novelty storm glasses were selling for at the time (October 2010), Una and Fierra built their own set of six storm glasses from scratch. Once the ingredients in the glass had settled and begun forming crystals, the two began an intensive 12-week program of watching crystals grow.

Their goal wasn’t to see if the storm glasses were accurate in predicting all kinds of weather. They simply wanted to know if the storm glasses could accurately predict rain. So every day for twelve weeks, they recorded the appearance of the crystal and whether or not it rained that day. (See Cecil’s article here for a more precise description of their experiment.)

At the end of the experiment they analyzed the data to see how good the storm glasses’ track record was. Answer: The accuracy of individual glasses varied. Some were slightly more accurate than others, but in general, the storm glasses accurately predicted rain about half the time.

If they are so useless, why were storm glasses invented anyway?   

When storm glasses were invented in the 18th century, they were widely promoted as a more affordable weather divining tool for people whose lives depended on the weather, like farmers, fishermen, and sailors, but who couldn’t afford the more expensive (and more accurate) mercury barometers.

After a huge storm sank some 200 ships off the coast of the British Isles in October 1859, sea captain Robert Fitzroy pushed for Britain to establish a series of weather stations along its coast to monitor sailing conditions. The stations were equipped with storm glasses and sent reports of local conditions back to the Meteorological Office in London. The first weather reports based on this system began appearing in the Times in 1860. By 1861, local fishing ports had begun flying cones to alert sailors to approaching gales.

At first, merchants objected to Fitzroy’s weather forecasting system because it kept their sailors in port more often. But the fishermen themselves loved it, and credited Fitzroy with saving countless lives. The storm glasses Fitzroy championed in setting up this system were named after him, although it’s not clear that he himself actually invented them.

What is clear, however, is that Fitzroy recognized the unreliable nature of his weather prediction system. He exhausted his personal fortune in a futile effort to create a better one, before committing suicide in 1863.

The same storm glass as it appeared on the morning of February 2, 2017. You can see the crystals have dissolved some. (Photo: Shala Howell)

The same storm glass as it appeared on the morning of February 2, 2017. You can see the crystals have dissolved some, only reaching to the top of the words “Rainy Weather.” It was cloudy that day too. (Photo: Shala Howell)

So if the storm glass isn’t responding to weather changes, what is driving the formation and dissolution of the crystals? 

Although my storm glass hasn’t been much help for at-a-glance weather forecasts, the crystals inside it actually are growing and dissolving in response to some unseen environmental change. On January 25th, the crystals in my storm glass had expanded to touch the bottom of the words “19th Century.” By February 2, they had retreated to barely cover “Rainy Weather.”

Why?

There are lots of theories for what causes the chemicals in the storm glass to create a shifting array of crystal patterns. Early proponents of the storm glasses posited that the glasses responded to light, heat, wind, atmospheric pressure, or electrical charges in the air. But the truth is, no one really knows.

Pressure may have been a factor in the early storm glasses, which were sealed with flexible rubber caps, but it’s unlikely to have any impact on modern storm glasses, which come in hermetically sealed glass containers. The idea that the crystals are responding to electrical charges in the environment around them seems equally implausible, given that glass is an insulator, not a conductor of electricity.

Still, the other theories are intriguing and call for further investigation.  This is the part where I tell you to hang on for a week, while The Nine-Year-Old and I perform some highly scientific yet completely safe to try at home tests. We’ll report back.

* Note: Although most commercially available storm glasses are glass tubes, Weather in a Bottle has a set of lovely storm glasses that come in a flat round glass container.

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Throwback Thursday: The Four-Year-Old’s Vintage White Leather Cowboy Boots

The boots, temporarily at rest after weeks of near constant jumping.

When The Nine-Year-Old was a mere Four-Year-Old, she walked into an antique shop in Cape Cod one rainy afternoon and discovered a just-her-size pair of vintage white leather cowboy boots.

As The Four-Year-Old said while jumping up and down in the store during the test run before purchase: “These boots have got some hop in them, Mommyo.”

After hopping over to a mirror and pausing (briefly) to admire her reflection, The Four-Year-Old realized that her boots had far more potential than she had first realized. “Maybe I could go herding a cow in them, Mommyo. Or a bull. Mommyo! Maybe I could even get a job in Texas!”

(At the time The Four-Year-Old had a burning desire to get to Texas, as she was under the impression that Santa spent his summers there.)

I wonder where those boots have ended up. I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have given them away to just anybody.

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