Weather Lore and Amateur Forecasting
“Red sky at morning, sailors take warning; red sky at night, sailor’s delight.”
“When the stars begin to huddle, the earth will soon become a puddle.”
“March comes in like a lion, out like a lamb.”
You may have wondered if any of these are true, and careful observation may have suggested that some of them are. This is especially true if you have aching joints to help you predict bad weather! Much of the old weather lore is based on observations of weather patterns at a particular place and time. For this reason, it has a definite role to play in amateur forecasting.
The most reliable weather sayings feature the sky itself, such as the first two listed above. This makes sense, because the sky is where weather happens. Careful observation of the appearance of the sun and moon, prevalence and type of clouds, and other signs above us can help with short-term forecasting. A red sky can mean good or bad weather depending on when it occurs. In the evening, a red sky means high pressure to the west, which will bring good weather. A red sky in the morning, however, can mean the high pressure has already past and it will be following by a change to lower pressure.
Patchy cirrus or cirrocumulus clouds moving into the night sky will obscure the stars in some areas, so that they appear to “huddle.” These clouds are generally indicative of an approaching frontal boundary and accompanying rain.
“Mare’s tails and mackerel scales make tall ships take in their sails.” This saying, though obviously designed for sailors, fits well with what we know today. “Mare’s tails” are cirrus clouds, while “mackerel scales” are cirrocumulus. Both of these cloud types herald an approaching warm front, where two air masses meet and wind and precipitation are common.
Most of us have seen a halo around the sun or moon at some point in our lives. Haloes are generally caused by high clouds made up of ice crystals (unless there is fog present). The phrase “Halo around the sun or moon, rain or snow soon” reflects this. The ice crystal clouds are usually cirrostratus, and like the cirrus and cirrocumulus mentioned previously, they can indicate the approach of a warm front and increased probability of rain or snow.
Some weather sayings relate to the humidity of the air. “A summer fog for fair, a winter fog for rain” is generally true because summer fog results from a clear night, and the next day will probably be clear also. Winter fog is different – it is caused by humid lake or ocean air moving over the land, bringing fog and precipitation, usually rain.
Pine cones reflect humidity with considerable accuracy. When the humidity is low, the scales of the pine cone dry out and stiffen – the cone opens. If the scales return to a closed position, they have absorbed moisture from the air and the humidity is higher. This is associated with greater potential for precipitation.
“When your joints all start to ache, rainy weather is at stake.” Some research studies have vindicated claims by those with arthritis and other aches that their pain increases with changes in the weather, especially with the passage of a cold front. Pain is usually associated with lower barometric pressure and colder temperatures. Humidity is also a factor for some people, especially those with rheumatoid arthritis. Research on pain in RA revealed that hot temperature was also a factor since warmer temperatures meant more water vapor in the air.
Weather sayings that purport to provide long-term forecasts, like the saying about March’s lion and lamb, are almost always useless. Here are some common ones:
“If the groundhog sees his shadow on February 2, there will be 6 more weeks of winter weather.”
“A cold and wet June spoils the rest of the year.”
“Fair on September first, fair for the month.”
“A warm November is the sign of a bad winter.”
Finally, many English weather sayings are applicable to the Northern Hemisphere only. The Southern Hemisphere and the tropical regions near the equator have their own rules for climate and weather.
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