I was sitting at work one quiet weather afternoon trying to come up with an interesting topic to write about in a blog. I was having a hard time coming up with any new ideas so I decided to turn it over to our Facebook Fans (hey, we do write these blogs for YOU the viewer! If you haven’t checked out our Facebook page you can find us at www.facebook.com/news8stormteam) and asked what they would want to know more about. Well, the accuracy of old weather sayings or folklore came up as one of those topics. This is a great topic and I must say that I have enjoyed doing the research (Thanks Facebook Fans!). Here is some of the information I found on the more popular weather folklore:
“Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.”
This is one of the more famous ones, and it has some pretty good reasoning behind it. Now, remember that this saying was developed way before satellites, radars and the modern knowledge we have in the science of meteorology. A couple things to keep in mind: 1) This saying only applies to locations in the middle latitudes (that would include us) 2) The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Something that will never change. 3) Most storm systems in the mid latitudes move in a west to east fashion. 4) Upper level clouds (especially cirrus clouds) are known for giving the sky a reddish hue during dusk or dawn.
Though this saying does have a few flaws, it actually does make a lot of sense. The first part: “Red sky at night, sailors delight”. Since most storm systems move from west to east and the fact that you can see the sun set in the west, this would mean that the storm system is moving away from you. The red color of the sky would be the sun’s rays reflecting off of the departing clouds. If a storm system is approaching at night the sky would not appear as red because the sun would be setting behind the clouds.
The second part: “Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning” is just the opposite. If you can see the rising sun in the east and the sky is reddish this means the sun is shining on clouds to the west, which would imply an approaching storm system.
Now, as I stated above, there are a few flaws with this folklore. 1) Whether there are clouds in the sky or not, the sky can look reddish at both dusk and dawn thanks to the angle of the sun. 2) Storm systems do not always move straight west to east. As we have seen many times, they can move southwest to northeast, south to north, northwest to southeast, or can even sometimes retrograde (move backwards, so for example east to west). 3) Cirrus or any other type of cloud can be present anywhere in the sky without a big storm system approaching or leaving. But all-in-all, if you can see the sunrise, but it looks dark out to the west, there is a pretty good chance that stormy weather is approaching. If you can see the sunset, the weather will be quiet.
Other sayings and reasonings that are similar to that above: “Rainbow in the east, sailors at peace. Rainbow in the west, sailors distress.” & “Rainbow in the morning, shepherds take warning; rainbow at night, shepherds delight”.
“No weather is ill, if the wind is still”
This saying applies to calm conditions when skies are clear during the day. These calm conditions are usually the result of high pressure. When there is a high pressure system sitting over us, winds are calm due to a weak pressure gradient (pressure gradient is what helps create wind and the gradient is considered strong or tight when you are sitting between two systems or with a strong low pressure system… this causes very windy conditions). Plus, the air is sinking under high pressure, so we usually will not see much in the way of cloud cover (you need rising air to produce clouds).
But there are some flaws to this saying…. 1) When there is a high pressure system sitting over us during the nighttime hours, especially in the middle of winter, this can cause for very frigid conditions. Though there may not be any “weather” like rain or snow, clear skies and light winds are the perfect combo for a very cold night (this allows the warmer air at the surface to escape into the atmosphere). 2) I’m sure you know the saying “The calm before the storm”. Many times thunderstorms will develop when winds are calm.
“Clear Moon, Frost Soon”
This saying is pretty accurate, but only when temperatures drop below freezing. “Clear moon” means that there will be clear skies at night. That along with light winds and a cold air mass, is the perfect set up for frost formation. This usually will happen when we have high pressure sitting over top of our region at night. This allows all of the warmer air from daytime heating to rise up into the atmosphere away from the surface. Again, this will only apply when temperatures are below freezing. You won’t get frost under clear skies with light winds when the temperature is 50 degrees, for example.
“A sunshiny shower, won’t last half an hour”
We’ve probably all experienced it: It will be raining, but the sun is still shining. This saying that indicates the shower won’t last long only applies when it happens at the end of a storm or when a storm system is decaying or pushing away. The clouds will begin to break up, sun may start to shine through, but some of the exiting clouds will still be producing rainfall. When does this not apply? When the sun is shining and it begins to rain. This could indicate that a storm system is moving towards you and that clouds will thicken and rain will intensify.
“Halo around the sun or moon, rain coming soon.”
A ring or halo around the moon or sun can be an indication that a low pressure system is approaching. The sunlight or moonlight will refract ice crystals at higher altitudes leading to the formation of a halo. This extra moisture in the air will most likely be descending to lower altitudes where it will form clouds or precipitation. Studies have shown that this saying is more relevant in warm months, rather than cold ones.
Again, all of these sayings have some flaws to them because Mother Nature can throw us some curveballs every once in a while so they will not be right 100% of the time. It is pretty interesting to see that many of these have a good amount of truth to them, since most were made up before we had any of our modern forecasting technology or theories. It just goes to show what a huge part observation plays in forecasting our everyday weather. If I have missed any that you’d like to know more about let me know and I will see what I can dig up! -Michelle