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The Moon and Rainfall

By Bruce Scofield

Astrometeorology—the study of correlations between weather and the Sun, Moon, and planets—dates back to the origins of Western astrology some four thousand or more years ago. Because astrology originated in the early agricultural centers of the Near East, there was great interest in knowing what the weather might be like in the future, as the success of crops was of vital importance. Over time, sky watchers in the great cities of the region, such as Babylonia, observed and recorded correlations with the moving planets, Sun, and Moon. These early observations were the start of a long tradition that was documented by Ptolemy, the famous scientist of the early Roman period, more than a thousand years later. Five to seven hundred years after Ptolemy, the great Arab astrologers of the Middle Ages sought ways to predict rain using astrology; a thousand years after that, the almanac writers of the Renaissance issued forecasts based on astrometeorology for years ahead. Today, a few atmospheric scientists are busy rediscovering the Moon’s effects on the weather.

In his great work on astrology from about 150 CE called the Tetrabiblios, Ptolemy described a way of predicting weather that was based on close scrutiny of the New or Full Moons that occur near the equinoxes or solstices, the markers of the four seasons. The methodology he recorded was to chart the time of these special New or Full Moons and note what signs they fell in and how they related to the other planets. With this information, a forecast for the season’s weather could be made. Ptolemy also had some insights into a kind of lunar tidal effect on the atmosphere. He compared the ebb and flow of the tides (which he correctly attributed to the phases of the Moon), to the changes in air currents that occur when the Sun or Moon were rising, setting, or directly overhead or under the Earth.

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