I’m sure that you’re no stranger to weather symbols. We see them all the time, on the telly when you’re watching the forecast, you see them online, and even on most weather apps too.
However, many of them look super similar, and sometimes it can be tricky to actually understand what they mean.
So if you often find yourself bewildered and confused when trying to figure out what the weather will be like for any upcoming plans, please don’t feel embarrassed.
You’re certainly not alone in this. In fact, most people aren’t massively familiar with the correct meanings of both weather symbols or the terminologies used in forecasts.
However, that is what I’m here for, by the end of this article, you’ll be aware of most of the frequently used weather symbols and what that means for you in terms of future weather.
So let’s jump right into it all so that you’ll come out the other side a weather-symbol whizz!
What Are Weather Symbols?
So before we start talking about what they signify, let’s first start by defining weather symbols themselves.
They are illustrated representations of several varying atmospheric conditions which are often used in meteorological forecasts to both show and indicate the forthcoming weather.
You’ll often see these symbols on maps to illustrate the weather is specific locations, however, this is not always the case.
Weather Forecasting Symbols
There are lots of weather symbols that all have slightly different meanings. Here we’ll go through each symbol one by one and talk about what these symbols symbolize and what weather you should be expecting when you see them.
This is probably one of the most understood weather symbols, probably due to its lack of ambiguity. It’s fairly obvious that seeing the big sun on the map in the location you live means that you’ll be having some nice weather coming your way.
But this symbol means more than just a bit of sunshine, it usually indicates that you’ll also have clear skies (no clouds.) It is also very rare that this symbol will be used to mean anything else like some of the other symbols that we’ll speak about.
Partly Cloudy (Day)
If you see this symbol it means that you’ll still have a nice bright, mainly sunny day. The difference here is that the sun is likely to be interrupted by some clouds.
It can also mean that these clouds could take over the sky as the day continues depending on the upcoming atmospheric conditions.
Partly Cloudy (Night)
When you see this symbol you should expect a clear sky at night with clouds during the daytime.
These clouds could potentially get bigger or disappear completely but it will really all depend on how the weather and the conditions progress throughout the day.
Here is where things can start getting confusing. Do you see how this cloud is a slightly lighter shade of gray? That indicates that it’s a cloudy day as opposed to the overcast symbol we will discuss next, which is the same cloud in a darker shade of gray.
The cloudy illustration indicates that you’ll have a very cloudy day with not much visible sky that has the potential to become overcast. The lighter shade of gray shows that there isn’t an indication of rain (just yet, at least.)
As previously mentioned, this symbol is very similar to the one above, but you’ll notice that the cloud is darker.
This can mean a couple of things, first of all, there will be distinctive cloud cover due that day, and second of all that while rain isn’t expected yet, there is all possibility that it might precipitate.
Cloudy With Light Showers
If you see this symbol, you might want to keep an umbrella with you if you’re out for the day, or at least make sure that you’ve got a coat with a hood, as it’s likely there will be a few light showers throughout the day.
In this instance, the conditions may ease up or get worse depending on the atmospheric conditions.
Cloudy With Showers
Ok, so while an umbrella was just a suggestion before, here it’s probably going to be a necessity if you’re hoping not to get wet. This symbol indicates persistent rain throughout the day.
When you see this symbol it’s likely that the rain will be heavy and will last a significant amount of time.
Cloudy With Heavy Showers
This symbol is sure to burst any bubble for fun outdoor activities, and it’s probably one of the most inconvenient weather conditions, which means it’s important to be aware of what it means.
If you see this picture, it means that you can expect extremely heavy rain that will most likely last the whole duration of the day.
Note: During heavy downpours, storms and flooding are more likely to happen so keep an eye out for any additional messages or information that comes with this symbol.
Pay attention to weather warnings (see also ‘What Is A Small Craft Advisory And How To Prepare‘) and always follow the recommended advice.
Partly Cloudy With Light Showers/Cloudy With Light Showers (Day)
As you can see here, this symbol can have a dual meaning and it can be a little tricky to understand exactly what this means. Generally, it tends to depict that you’ll have a partly sunny, partly cloudy day with a slight chance of showers here and there.
However, sometimes it can also mean that it will be cloudy all day with light showers occurring, and the sun symbol is just to indicate that this will happen throughout the day.
If you are confused, I would advise you to read on further as there is usually a brief description of the forecast too on most weather sites or apps.
Partly Cloudy With Light Showers/Cloudy With Light Showers (Night)
Similarly to the aforementioned symbol, this one also can have two meanings. Most of the time it’s letting you know that you’ll have a mainly clear sky throughout the night but that there may be a few clouds and potential for some light showers too.
However, it can also mean that it’ll be cloudy and a little rainy, while the moon indicates that this is the weather for the evening as opposed to the day.
Again, just read on a little further to distinguish between the two if it’s not obvious.
Again due to the lack of ambiguity, most people tend to recognize this symbol thanks to the little bolt of lightning coming from the cloud.
Now, there are many weather symbols that you can take lightly, a little cloud or shower won’t massively impact your day after all, however you should always take heed of this symbol.
Throughout the day you’ll be likely to experience strong winds, lightning, and heavy rain. Thunderstorms can have serious implications so always act responsibly when you see this symbol.
If you see this picture, it’s likely that you’ll experience hail at some point throughout the day. Similar weather conditions can create both hail and thunderstorms so you’ll want to take extra care.
More to the point, you’ll want to try and avoid a hail storm since those little balls of frozen water can hurt if you get caught in them while they’re pelting down.
Light Snow Shower
This symbol is very similar to the symbol below, but you’ll notice there is only one star shape under the cloud. This indicates that there will be only a light shower of snow.
If snowfall is common in your area this shouldn’t be a massive cause for concern. However, if you live in an area that rarely snows or you are situated in high hilltop areas you should always take precautions for the colder, slippier weather, especially while driving.
Heavy Snow Shower
This symbol, like the one before, indicates a fall of snow, however, the two stars opposed to the one represents a heavier fall of snow.
No matter how familiar you are with snow, or no matter where you live you should always take extra care as heavy snow can turn normally safe conditions into very dangerous ones quite quickly.
You should avoid driving in heavy snowfall where possible. If you must drive take the correct precautions such as using snow tires.
When you see the light gray cloud with both a raindrop and a snow star, it means that you’ll be expecting sleet. This is a mixture of both rain and snow.
This graphical depiction means that you’ll be expecting a misty day. Mist is nothing more than a high concentration of micro water droplets that hang near the surface of the ground.
It won’t necessarily get in the way of a day out if you’re planning one but it can have massive impacts on visibility so if you are traveling anywhere you’ll need to drive with extra care.
This picture means that you’ll be experiencing drizzle throughout the day. What is drizzle? You know that very fine misty rain that you almost can’t see but get caught in it for a few minutes and you’ll be soaked right through?
That’s drizzle. Though it might not look like much, you’ll want to avoid being out in it for prolonged amounts of time or you’ll be coming home very wet.
Hopefully, you won’t recognize this symbol as much as the others. It’s not very often at all that you’ll see it but if you do you need to take it very seriously.
Tropical storms alone can be massively destructive, but the real issue is that tropical storms can very easily progress into hurricanes and the damage that these can do is unmatched.
Please follow any advice given by local authorities if you see this symbol.
Before We Move On
You have now learned the majority of the weather symbols and should be able to understand most weather forecasts that you see now.
However, just we move on to a few other things to learn about, I would just like to take the time to remind you that there aren’t universal images for each weather condition (I know, I find it frustrating too.)
This means that the images may change slightly from forecast to forecast.
Some images are much more detailed and artistic than others, while some may even use realist photographs. Then you may also have more basic cartoon-looking images.
However, regardless of design the images should all look somewhat similar and all portray equivalent meanings. Either way, it’ll be down to you to interpret these symbols correctly.
And of course, it’s always important to remember that the weather forecast is merely predictions and the weather can still always be subject to change.
However, weather warnings should always be taken seriously and you should always follow any instructions under these guidelines as they are in the best interest of your safety.
Additional Forecast Information And Descriptions
Hopefully, now, you are able to identify and understand most of the common weather icons which are most of the battle with learning how to predict the weather.
However, the weather icons aren’t the only bits of information given to you when you look at a weather forecast. So let’s look at some of the other factors that may be causing some confusion.
While the little weather symbol is probably the best indication of what the weather will be like on a particular day, the next best way to gauge how the day is going to go is probably checking the min and max temperatures for that given day.
And it’s probably also one of the most influential factors in how you’ll plan or dress for your day, so you’ll want to be aware of them.
Depending on your country’s measurements, the temperature will be predicted in either degrees Celcius or Fahrenheit. And these numbers really do what you’d expect them to do. They let you know what the predicted lowest and highest temperatures will be for that day.
Likelihood Of Precipitation In Percentages
Just as most people want to know if the sun will be out for any planned day, you’ll also want to know the likelihood of rain. No one wants to plan a beach day to be stuck in a downpour, that’s not going to be much fun.
The likelihood of rain in percentages lets you know how likely the chance of rainfall is actually going to be.
You will also usually be told how much rain will fall, these measurements will depend on where you live but are usually in inches or millimeters.
Wind Speed And Direction
You won’t see wind speed and direction indicators half as much as you will any of the other things that we’ve spoken about in this article, however, nevertheless, it’s always good to know about them and what they mean.
Wind speeds and directions are fairly easy to understand. It is as simple as it sounds, you’ll find out how strong the winds are and what direction the wind is moving in.
If the wind is particularly strong or high on say a sunny day, it’s likely that the temperature will feel cooler than it actually is.
Some weather apps will even have an ‘actual temperature’ and a ‘feels like’ temperature to indicate when other factors may stop you from feeling the maximum heat in the air.
Short Text Summaries
In most weather forecasts, you’ll also find a short text summary of what weather you should be expecting. Most people glance over and don’t pay much notice to them but they’re actually super helpful.
Especially, if you are slightly confused by symbols or unsure of what they mean you should take the time to read these. They’re only short paragraphs that will explain what weather to expect.
Weather Warnings & Colors
If there is a weather warning on any forecast, you should always take these seriously. A weather warning is an indication of severe weather that can cause significant damage or disruption.
Usually, you’ll see a weather warning anywhere up to seven days before the expected weather issue. There can be weather warnings for the following; rain, thunderstorms, wind, snow, lightning, ice, extreme heat, and fog.
When it comes to weather warnings, there are three different types; yellow, amber, and red. Each one signifies a varying level of severity.
A yellow warning indicates a low-mild impact. It could be possible that there may be some disruption to travel in these cases.
However, it is likely during a yellow warning that the majority of people can carry on with their days as usual but does let you know that there is a chance that the weather may affect your day.
A yellow warning can also mean that most people will be affected but the chances of those impacts occurring are low. You will need to read further into the warning information to determine this.
An amber warning means that the likelihood of severe weather disrupting your day is higher. Usually, during this warning, you can expect travel delays as well as road and railway closures.
The potential for power cuts is also higher. You should be traveling with care if you choose to travel during an amber warning.
Dangerous weather is expected during a red warning and you must take precautions to keep yourself and others safe during this time. It is likely that there is the potential for risk to life during a red warning so it is not advised that you travel.
You should always follow the information provided by any local authorities or emergency services.
iPhone Weather Symbols
Most iPhones have a built-in weather app that can be really helpful for planning days out, trips across the country, and even vacations. You can choose your location and it will give you the weekly forecast for that given place.
And while the icons are fairly similar, the app has its own set of icons for each weather indicator as you can see from the image below. Most symbols are fairly similar to the ones mentioned above so you should be able to navigate between them easily enough.
Understanding weather forecasts is really a skill you’ll want under your belt. It’ll keep you in better control of your plans and they can also help keep you safe when the weather can cause potential problems and dangers.
For example, a mist can abstract your vision and snow can cause slippery surfaces which can make driving more difficult and will mean you’ll need to take extra precautions.
Hopefully from reading this article you have a much better idea of what each of the separate symbols represents and how that will impact both the weather and your day (see also ‘When And Why – What Are The Hottest And Coldest Parts Of The Day?‘).
Now you should be prepared for whatever the weather throws at you and you can plan accordingly.