Weather Lore

Welcome to the page where I have collected a few weather lore sayings and laid out the meterological truth, or otherwise, behind them.

If you are interested in weather lore, you might like to know that I have written a book that has a weather lore section. It sets out the sayings that work and the ones that don't. It is called, The Walker's Guide to Outdoor Clues & Signs.

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Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning.” (Alternative: shepherd’s delight or warning.)

TRUE. If the sky is red at night, then the chances are that the air to the west of you is clear enough for the sun’s light to have passed through it to reach you. In the UK, and many other parts of the world, most weather comes from the west and so this is indeed a fair sign that good weather is on its way.

A red sky in the morning can be caused by the dawn light bouncing off cirrus ice crystals in the upper atmosphere. Cirrus clouds can be at the leading edge of a frontal system and so this can also work to signal poor incoming weather.

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“Mare’s tails and mackerel scales make tall ships carry low sails.”

TRUE. The mare’s tails are caused by high cirrus clouds that have been shaped by the upper winds. Cirrus clouds can signal an approaching front.

The mackerel scales are cirrocumulus clouds that are being influenced by shifting wind directions and high speeds and are typical of an advancing low pressure system.

“If there is a halo round the sun or moon, then we can all expect rain quite soon.”

TRUE. The halo around a bright object is caused by refraction of the light through the ice crystals of high cirrus clouds. Cirrus can be the first cloud to appear ahead of a front.

“A piece of seaweed hung up will become damp before it rains.”

PARTLY TRUE. Seaweed does absorb atmospheric humidity and the air does become humid before it rains, but it will also become humid in fine weather sometimes, for example if dew is forming.

“As the day grows longer, the cold grows stronger.”

PARTLY TRUE. This Scandinavian expression stems from the turbulent, often very fresh, weather that occurs in spring. This is often a result of the agitated effect of the land warming, but the sea remaining cold at this time of year. This can lead to squalls and other sudden weather changes.

“Rain before seven, fine before eleven.”

PARTLY TRUE. Most rain in the UK is part of a frontal system that will typically blow through in 3-4 hours.

“If in the sky you see cliffs and towers, it won’t be long before there is a shower.”

TRUE. As a general rule of thumb, the more vertical clouds appear the more unsettled the air is and consequently the less calm the weather will be.

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A vast cumulonimbus cloud - very bad weather is imminent

“If woolly fleeces bestow the heavenly way, be sure no rain will come today.”

TRUE. Scattered cumulus clouds that appear like fluffy sheep are a sign of settled weather. They are known as ‘fair-weather clouds’.

“Dew on the grass, no rain will come to pass.”

MOSTLY TRUE. Dew occurs when the surface, ie. the grass, has cooled and this tends to happen under clear skies at night when the heat radiates from the ground. If the clear skies remain then of course there will be no rain, but if a weather system moves in during the day then a change in the weather can follow.

Thanks to Samuel Chapman for sending in.

“Ne’er cast a clout, til May is out.”

More precaution than prediction, this expression means do not take your warm clothes off until the end of May. Thanks to Rowena for sending in.

“Mackerel sky, mackerel sky, never long wet, never long dry.”

MOSTLY TRUE. See above.

“When the bees crowd out of their hive, the weather makes it good to be alive. When the bees crowd into their hive again, it is a sign of thunder and of rain.”

SOUNDS LOGICAL, BUT TRUTH UNKNOWN – Apiarists please get in touch to verify or otherwise!

“If a fly lands on your nose, swat it till it goes. If the fly then lands again, it will bring back heavy rain.”

POSSIBLY TRUE. Could be true due to the fact that insects fly lower when the air pressure is lower, ie. when the chance of bad weather increases. Get in touch if you know more.

Thanks to Kealy Thomas for sending in the three above. In her words, ‘I’ve had swallows snapping flies from around my head when there was stormy weather brewing!’

“Oak before Ash, we’ll have a splash. Ash before Oak, we’ll have a soak.”

NOT TRUE. Thanks to Anne Fenn for the above, but “It will be disappointing to learn that there is no evidence linking the relative timings of oak and ash and subsequent rainfall.” For more on this see this Woodland Trust page.

<span style="color: #000080;"><strong>"If it sinks from the north,
It will double its wrath,
If it sinks from the south,
it will open its mouth,
If it sinks from the west,
it is never at rest,
If it sinks from the east
it will leave us in peace."</strong></span>
SOME TRUTH: Most weather comes from the west, or southwest.
<span style="color: #000080;"><strong>"Rainbow in the south, heavy rain and snow
Rainbow in the west, little showers and dew,
Rainbow in the east, fair skies and blue."</strong></span>
SOME TRUTH: Most weather comes from the west, or southwest. <strong>
<span style="color: #000080;">"If the cock goes crowing to bed</span></strong><span style="color: #000080;"><strong>
He'll certainly rise with a watery head</strong></span>
<span style="color: #000080;"><strong><span style="color: #000080;">When black snails cross your path
The black cloud much mo</span>isture hath
When the peacock loudly bawls
Soon we'll have both rain and squalls
When rooks fly sporting high in the air
That shows the windy storms are near."</strong></span>
TRUTH UNKNOWN.
<span style="color: #000080;"><strong>"If new years eve wind bloweth south,
It betonkeneth warmth and growth,
If west, much milk, and fish in the sea
If north, much cold, and storms there will be
If east, the trees will bear much fruit,
If north-east, flee it man and brute."</strong></span>
UNLIKELY!
One for winter:
<span style="color: #000080;"><strong>"The west wind always brings wet weather
The east wind, wet and cold together
The south wind surely brings the rain
The north wind blows it back again."</strong></span>
SOMETIMES TRUE, SOMETIMES NOT. Winds between north and east in the winter
will usually bring colder air and quite often bring snow. 
My thanks to Thomas Lawley for sending in the five above,
they come from a book called
Practical Magic in the Northern Tradition by Nigel Pennick.

Some more weather lore from various sources (not written by Tristan Gooley)

Animals

“When the goose flies high fair weather. If the goose files low, foul weather.”

“Swallow flying low means the air is damp and their insect prey are flitting near the ground.”

“Larks fly high in the air when the weather is destined to stay fine.”

The increase in humidity, at times of bad or wet weather, draws insects to the surface, this is a reason for insect-seeking birds to fly low.

“If the Cock goes crowing to bed; He’ll certainly rise with a watery head.”

Birds and animals are thought to have a negative reaction to a decrease in atmospheric pressure. Making them restless. A cockerel crowing at night would be seen as restless behaviour, and a sign that rain is on its way.

“A cow with its tail to the west, makes weather the best. A cow with its tail to the east, makes weather the least.” An animal's natural instinct is to graze with the wind behind them. This gives them an advantage over any predator who attacks from behind, as their scent would be blown towards the animal and they can escape. Westerly winds tend to bring us fair and good weather. Easterly winds tend to bring us bad and sometimes thundery weather.

“Crickets chirp faster when its warm and slower when its cold.”

The method know as Dolbear’s Law was developed in 1898, after a studied showed that by counting the cricket’s chirps for 14 seconds and adding 40, gives an approximate temperature reading in degrees Fahrenheit.

“When Ladybirds swam, expect a day that’s warm.”

Ladybirds are a cold blooded insect, which means that the weather can affect their internal temperature. According to studies, ladybirds will not fly if the temperature goes below 55 degrees fahrenheit. In warm, dry weather, heat gets stored in their shells, flying releases the heat from their bodies. Ladybirds hibernate in winter and are rarely seen, unless there is a mild winter day.

“Seagull, seagull, sit on the sand, its never good weather when you’re on land.”

Seagulls are normally seen in flight or sitting water. Generally when you see them on land, it is during bad weather, when the sea is choppy and the wind gusty. This cannot really be used as a weather predictor as the weather is typically happening already.

“When kitty washes behind her ears, we’ll soon be tasting heavens tears.”

Static electricity builds up in a cat's fur on very dry days. On days of low humidity and fair weather cats are likely to lick their fur to moisten it and remove the static. This however is not necessarily a reliable source of weather forecasting as cats have become more accustom to being indoor/house cats, and are not as affected by natural weather conditions. “Frogs singing in the evening indicate fair weather for the next day.”

A frog croaking doesn’t necessarily mean fair weather as frogs often “sing” when rain draws near or humidity rises. “The louder the frogs croak, the more rain.”

This can be interpreted in two ways. One is the moisture and humidity in the air can cause a large number of frogs to croak, as the moisture in the air allows them to stay out of the water for longer.

“Spiders leave their webs when it is going to rain.”

Insects have adapted to monitoring the atmosphere as a way of surviving. A spider will abandon their web spinning if there is a drop in atmospheric pressure and seek shelter.

Plants

“Pimpernel, pimpernel, tell me true. Whether the weather be fine or no. No heart can think, no tongue can tell. The virtues of the pimpernel.”

The pimpernel or ‘scarlet pimpernel’, was known as a poor man’s weather glass. The flower opens when it is sunny and closes when rain is due.

“When leaves show their undersides, be very sure that rain betides.”

When humidity and moisture in the atmosphere is increasing, a sign of wet weather, stalks of leaves are softened, this then causes the leaves to turn over. This is noticeable in trees, such as poplar, lime, sycamore and lilac.

Stars

“When the stars being to huddle, the earth will soon become a puddle.”

As clouds increase in the night sky, stars will appear to be huddled together. As cloud increases, so does the chance of rain.

“Cold night stars bright.” Moisture in the air tends to dim or redden the light from the sun, moon and stars. Moisture or clouds act as a blanket, in the atmosphere/sky, retaining the heat stored in the earth during the day. On nights when there is less moisture or cloud, the temperature will cool quicker and stars will appear brighter.

Rain

“When clouds look like black smoke a wise man will put on a cloak.”

Clouds laden with large water droplets look darker than fair-weather clouds and are a sign of rain. “When the chair squeak, it’s of rain they speak.”

When humidity is high, a sign of rain, wooden furniture, windows and doors, will absorb moisture from the air, which causes them to squeak and stick.

“If salt is sticky, and gains weight. It will rain, before too late.”

Salt will draw in moisture from the air, when humidity in the atmosphere is high, an indication of rain. Salt will soak up the moisture in the air and clog up salt shakers.

“When smoke descends, good weather ends.”

Instability in atmospheric pressure and the humidity before a storm, prevents chimney or bonfire smoke from rising. Making the smoke curl downwards.

“When the wind is out of the east, tis neither good for man or beast.”

Most of our coldest winter weather comes from Eastern or Northern Europe and Russia, bringing us icy conditions and sometimes snow. In the summer easterly winds can bring with them pollutants and poor quality air, giving us hazy skies. “When the wind is blowing in the north, no fisherman should set forth, When the wind is blowing in the east, ‘tis not fit for man nor beast, When the wind is blowing in the south, it brings the food over the fish’s mouth, When the wind is blowing in the west, that is when the fishing’s best!.”

As a general rule, westerly winds are seen as good weather winds, and easterly winds are seen as bad weather winds. This tends to be true on both accounts. Additionally north winds are associated with snow and showers, while south winds can be a warning for bad weather approaching.

“When grass is dry at morning light, look for rain before the night.”

Dew forms on humid nights, when skies are clear and there is no cloud. Giving the indication of a fair day to follow. On cloudy nights, the ground is unable to cool and prevents dew from forming, cloudy skies normally mean rain will follow. “Three days rain will empty any sky.”

In our climate, heavy rain is unlikely to last for long periods of time. Although dreary weather can persist for days. Heavy, torrential rain is likely to clear within three days.

“When the ditch and pond offend the nose, then look out for rain and stormy blows.”

In fair weather when air pressure is high, earthly smells tend to get stored in their source. When low air pressure arrives before rain, the scents are released and odours can be smelt.

“When sound travels far and wide, a stormy day will betide.”

In summer this saying is true, as warm moist air is a good sound conductor and a sign of summer rain. However in winter, when temperatures drop, very cold air becomes dense and a greater sound conductor than warm air, making it a sign of drier weather.

“The more cloud types present, the greater the chance of rain or snow.”

Different cloud types can indicate instability in the higher atmosphere, bringing with it the right conditions for storms. “In the morning mountains, in the afternoon fountains.”

This can be an indication of thunder storms and heavy rain. Especially in summer months, when the sun heats the earth’s surface during the day, cumlus clouds start to build in the sky. If the atmosphere is just right, the clouds will tower and reach the top atmosphere, when rain and lightning will break out below.

“When the sun draws water, rain will follow.”

This has little weather predicting value, as although water is drawn from the earth’s atmosphere, to form clouds, unless there is sufficient moisture in the air rain is unlikely.

“Rain long foretold, long last, short notice, soon will pass.”

This can relate to days when there are dominant grey clouds darkening the horizon and heavy rain is ominous. As opposed to a “surprise shower” with its short-lived rain.

Moon

“Clear moon, frost soon.”

On clear nights, when there is no blanket of cloud to absorb the heat stored in the earth throughout the day, the temperature will cool quickly. If there is no wind and the temperature is low enough, the likelihood of frost is high. “If the moon’s face is red, of water she speaks.”

Dust being pushed before a low pressure in a weather front, can change the colour of the moon, making it appear red. “If we’d no moon at all, and that may seem strange. We still should have weather that’s subject to change.”

It has not been proven that the moon has any affect on weather changes. Although it does assist in weather predictions.

Misc

“Rainbow in the morning gives you fair warning. A rainbow afternoon, good weather coming soon.”

As weather moves mostly from west to east, if the sun raises in the east, with a rainbow and its showers in the west, then rain will soon be on its way. Whereas if a rainbow is seen in the afternoon/evening and the wind is still blowing westerly then the weather should break soon, as there are enough breaks in the cloud for the sun to shine through, and fair weather will follow.

“A summer fog for fair, a winter fog for rain. A fact most everywhere, in valley or on plain.”

Fog is formed, when the temperature falls to ‘dew point’, where humidity rises to 100%. This only happens on clear summer nights. Clouds act as a blanket, holding in the heat from the day, meaning the air temperature is unable to cool to ‘dew point’. Fog is also formed when warm, moisture-laden air blows over a cold surface, forming a winter fog. Moist air is a sign of rain.

“A year of snow, a year of plenty.”

Continuous snow on agricultural lands and orchards, delaying the growing process of plants, until the frost season is over. This also prevents the thawing and refreezing process, that can kill wheat and grain.

“The higher the cloud the better the weather.”

This saying is false. Cirrus clouds are typical around 30,000ft (9km) in the sky and associated with bad weather. “The wind of the daytime wrestle and fight, longer and stronger than those of the night.”

Stability in the air occurs at night when cool air is under warmer air. The stability in the air causes the wind to slacken. During the daytime, the earth’s surface warms, causing warmer air under cooler air and quickening the wind. “A coming storm your shooting corns presage, and aches will throb, your hollow tooth will rage.”

Medical studies have shown that some people can experience intense pain when there is a drop in atmospheric pressure. However some researchers believe that a selective memory maybe the cause of this, resulting in inconclusive evidence of this being a reliable weather forecasting method.

“If the red sun begin his race, be sure the rain will fall apace.”

Another version of red sky at night.

“A high wind drives away the frost.”

Frost cannot be blown away, but wind does mix up the atmosphere, bringing with it warmer air supplies, which means frost is unable to form.

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For a complete guide to Natural Navigation read Tristan’s books.