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The Trusty Weathervane


With easy access to up-to-date reports, few people today rely on a weathervane for their weather predictions. Today a weathervane is mostly for decoration, but at one time, they were an important tool for anyone who needed to know what the weather had in store.

On this date in 1903, the Hope Pioneer reminded readers of the humble weathervane that was so often taken for granted. Weathervanes were usually placed at the highest point on a house or barn. It had to be away from trees that could influence the wind. On the Great Plains, that wasn’t difficult. There is a weight at the point of the weathervane arrow. The rear of the weathervane is lighter and catches the breeze. The airflow is distributed evenly on both sides of the weathervane, which turns the point of the arrow into the wind.

From ancient times, people paid attention to the wind to predict the weather. They knew that a change in the wind meant a change in the weather, and they were common in colonial America. Thomas Jefferson’s weathervane was connected to a compass on the ceiling of Monticello. Jefferson could see the direction of the wind while he sat in his library. George Washington was another keen observer of the weather. His weathervane is still on the cupola of Mount Vernon.


In 1903 North Dakota, the farmer had to be his own weatherman and pay close attention to the wind. Virtually every barn had a weathervane. The experienced farmer knew that as long as the wind was in the usual speed and direction, the weather would be stable. A glance at the weathervane could alert the farmer to expect rain, snow, or a storm. It could also predict a temperature change. South winds bring warm temperatures while a north wind brings cold.


Today we view weathervanes as interesting decorative elements, but the next time you see one, you might give a thought to how important they were to early North Dakotans.


Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher



Hope Pioneer. “Our Friends the Clocks.” Hope ND. 11/6/1903. Page 6.

Weather Prediction. “Wind Direction and Weather Forecasting.” https://www.theweatherprediction.com/habyhints2/432/#:~:text=Wind%20direction%20changes%20often%20accompany%20changes%20in%20the,wind%20from%20the%20north%20often%20means%20cooler%20air   Accessed 10/6/2020.

ThoughCo. “A Brief History of Weathervanes.” https://www.thoughtco.com/weather-vane-history-3444409#:~:text=Thomas%20Jefferson%20had%20a%20weather%20vane%20at%20his,see%20the%20wind%20direction%20from%20inside%20his%20house.  Accessed 10/6/2020.

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