Throughout the years, people have come up with some interesting ways to try to predict the weather. While it is easy to dismiss this fascinating body of folklore as superstition or hasty generalization, some of the old sayings have stood the test of time. The trick is to separate the fact from the fiction.
Over the next few weeks we will take a look at some of the old sayings and see which ones are true and why. We will start by examining ways to predict dry and wet weather.
- Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.
Fact. If the sky is red at sunset, the sun is shining on clouds in the east, which have already moved away. If the sky is red at sunrise, the sun is shining on clouds to the west, which are probably on their way.
- Rainbow in the morning gives you fair warning.
Fact. A morning rainbow appears when there is rain to the west, the direction from which bad weather is likely to come.
- When halo rings the moon or sun, rain is approaching on the run.
Fact. A strong, obvious halo indicates that the moon or sun is shining through ice crystals at high altitudes. These high ice clouds usually give way to lower rain clouds.
- Frost or dew in the morning light, shows no rain before the night.
Fact. Cool, clear weather is necessary for condensation to form.
- Short notice, soon to pass; long notice, long will last.
Fact. A sudden thunderstorm is usually associated with a cold front, which quickly moves on its way. A long period of threatening weather usually precedes a warm front, which may take several days to pass by.
- Rain before seven, clear by eleven.
Just depends. If the rain is associated with a cold front, this saying will probably hold true. If the rain is associated with a warm front, however, it could last all day.
- The higher the clouds, the finer the weather.
Just depends. High clouds themselves do not bring rain, and may indeed be indicators of fine weather. However, they may also give way to lower rainmaking clouds.
- Mountains in the morning, fountains in the evening.
Fact. Mountainous clouds usually turn into thunderstorms.
- No weather is ill, if the wind is still.
Just depends. Still winds usually indicate the presence of calm, high-pressure weather. On the other hand, those who have spent plenty of time outdoors know the truth of the phrase “the calm before the storm!”
- When windows won’t open, and the salt clogs the shaker, the weather will favor the umbrella maker.
Fact. Windows that stick and salt that clumps together indicate high humidity—in other words, wet weather.
- When sounds travel far and wide, a stormy day will betide.
Just depends. Moist air conducts sound better than dry air, so there is an element of truth to this. However, cold air conducts sound better than warm air. This is why sound can carry so far on a clear, still winter day, without any rain or snow following.
- A coming storm your shooting corns presage, and aches will throb, your hollow tooth will rage.
Fact. There appears to be a correlation between changes in air pressure and aches and pains. Some scientists dismiss this bit of folk wisdom by suggesting that selective memory may be at play, but the saying has been proven true too many times to ignore.
McLeod, Jaime. “Can Aches and Pains Predict the Rain?” Farmers’ Almanac. Updated May 2, 2021. https://www.farmersalmanac.com/can-aches-and-pains-predict-the-rain-10960.
Means, Tiffany. “What’s the Weather Lore Behind the Morton Salt Slogan?” Farmers’ Almanac. Updated March 25, 2021. https://www.farmersalmanac.com/weather-lore-morton-salt-slogan-28098.
National Park Service. “Weather Lore Sayings.” Accessed December 7, 2021. https://www.nps.gov/common/uploads/teachers/lessonplans/Weather-Lore-Sayings1.pdf.
Rubin, Louis D. and Jim Duncan. The Weather Wizard’s Cloud Book. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1989.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac. “The Facts Behind Weather Folklore.” April 27, 2017. https://www.almanac.com/extra/facts-behind-weather-folklore.
———. “Weather Sayings and Their Meanings.” November 12, 2021. https://www.almanac.com/content/weather-sayings-and-their-meanings.