Weather - Weather Lore


Weather Lore

Weather lore is almost as old as the human race, and as extensive. However its scientific use is doubtful. Where rules and sayings apply to weather in the longer term, beyond the next few days, then experience and logic suggest that they are worthless. Dubious weather lore sometimes appears to persist because of a desire to believe in magic or the supernatural, this is also seen in the widespread acceptance of astrology. The following present some of the best known.

When March comes in like a lion it goes out like a lamb, when it comes in like a lamb, it goes out like a lion - March is at the end of the long, northern hemisphere winter when the sun is moving northwards over the equator and the temperature contrast between high and low latitudes is greatest. This means that the strength of the westerly circulation is also near its maximum and vigorous depressions bring plenty of wet and windy spells across the British Isles and Western Europe in most years. The saying does reflect the changeable nature of spring weather with a high probability of different types of weather early and late in the month.

Rain before seven, fine before eleven - Four hours of continuous rain occur occasionally in temperate latitudes when a weather front becomes slow moving, perhaps with waves, but periods of rain are usually shorter. Seven and eleven were perhaps chosen because other four hour periods do not scan well.

Long foretold, long last; short notice, soon past - This is true insofar as the slow advance of a depression with falling pressure and thickening cloud brings bad weather often lasting a day ore more, whereas rapid clouding over is more likely to be the precursor of a single shower or a smaller fast-moving depression.

Red sky in the morning, shepherd's warning; red sky at night, shepherd's delight - Near sunset and sunrise rays from the low sun travel a much longer distance through the atmosphere encountering many more dust particles. These scatter the longer wavelength red end of the light spectrum (when the sun is high in the sky, that is why the sky appears a blue colour). A red sky at night suggests a clear sky for hundreds of miles beyond the western horizon, and no imminent frontal systems bringing rain. Red sky in the morning tells us little about what is approaching from the west, but only that eastern skies are largely clear. However when this corresponds to the zone of fine weather which often exists between two depressions, then it suggest that it is moving away eastwards with more bad weather not far away to the west.

Ice in November to bear a duck, the rest of the winter'll be slush and muck - Winter in the UK rarely sets in before December, the coldest months are usually January and February. A very cold snap in November is unlikely to last, and will usually be followed by a milder spell with a thaw. November's weak sun will dry the ground only slowly if at all, and slush and much aptly describes conditions underfoot in the countryside when mild wet weather follows snow and ice.

Warm October, cold February - This are all similar relationships between months may occur more then expected over certain periods and less over others. They have no long term value and such sayings are invalid.

Mackerel sky and mares' tails, make tall ships carry small sails - High cirrus clouds often form well ahead of depressions and their associated fronts. Mackerel skies and mares' tails describe forms of cirrocumulus and twisted sheaves of cirrus respectively implying strong high-level winds. In the days of sailing ships they will have been rightly viewed as likely forerunners of stormy weather.

Evening red and morning grey, two sure signs of one fine day - Morning grey probably refers to early morning mist, fog or shallow low cloud which often form on clear, near clam nights, but soon disperse after sunrise on a fine summer day. More extensive cloud especially with strong winds prevents the red sunset and overnight mist or fog, and of course a fine day is much less likely.

If clouds be bright, 'twill clear tonight. If clouds be dark, 'twill rain - d'ye hark - Bright clouds suggest sun shining through gaps between and on to cumulus clouds, which result from the sun heating the ground when the atmosphere is unstable. These clouds often dissolve towards sunset to give a clear, cold night. Dark clouds are usually deep and more extensive. They do not usually vary much with local solar heating or the lack of it, and often bring rain.

A green Christmas makes a fat churchyard. A cold May gives full barns and empty churchyards - The first of these sayings mare refer to an increased spread of infections (in years gone by) when a mild Christmas encouraged the more susceptible old and young folk out to worship and celebrate. The second may be explained by cold, wet springs encouraging sturdy if slow crop growth and discouraging early insect pests. These strong plants may have produced better harvests in those years, leaving more to store through the following winter and better nutrition for the populace.

Cast not a clout 'till May be out, 'Till April's dead, change not a thread - A clout here means a piece of clothing. Both sayings date from when a single set of clothes would be worn throughout the winter. They simply mean that April and even May can be cold, so do not be misled by a warm spell.

When trout refuse bait or fly, there is ever a storm a nigh - This is likely to stem from the idea that if fish are biting fishermen are oblivious of the weather, if they are then fishermen blame the weather!

Turkeys perched on trees and refusing to descend indicate snow - It is more likely to indicate the proximity of Christmas, intelligent birds and nothing to blame the problem on but the weather!

Cows lying down is a sure sign of rain - Cows regularly lie down to chew the cud!

In by day. Out by night. (of wind) - This is a short description of the diurnal change between sea breezes blowing in from the sea during the day and land breezes out to sea overnight.

A bright circle round the sun denotes a storm and colder weather - Thin cirrostratus cloud often produces both solar and lunar halos. It precedes depressions which bring rain and strong winds, and eventually colder weather to the rear.

A northern air, brings weather fair. The north wind doth blow, and we shall have snow -

Always a calm before a storm - This is frequently true but not always. Thunderstorms develop during hot sultry afternoons, when there is little wind, but once formed they produce strong downdraughts and squally winds.

The sudden storm lasts not three hours. The sharper the blast, the sooner 'tis past - These both truly reflect the difference between the sudden heavy deluge and squally winds from a heavy shower or thunderstorm, and the generally steadier and often prolonged frontal rain associated with depressions.

When the clouds go up the hill, they'll send down water to turn a mill - This may stem from the increase of cloud first seen over hills as moist southerly winds pick up ahead of a depression. The mill in this case would be a water mill.

Oiled floors become damp before rain - This is one of the many sayings that reflect the increased humidity in the air which often precedes rainy weather. Water condenses on to cold surfaces as air in contact is cooled below its dewpoint. Thus stone floors and walls in unheated building and with little or no covering will become damp.

If the ash is out before the oak, you may expect a thorough soak. If the oak is out before the ash, you'll hardly get a single splash - This saying is contradicted by the following: If the oak is out before the ash, 'twill be a summer of wet and splash, But if the ash is before the oak, 'twill be a summer of fire and smoke. The truth is one or the other often applies each year!

If it rains on St Swithin's Day (15 July) then we shall have rain for forty days - This is nonsense! The legend has it that St Swithin died in 862 and was initially buried outside in accordance with his wishes. About a century later, on 15 July, he was reinterred inside the church. It is likely to have been wet on that day and for most of the forty days following, with superstitious minds quick to connect this with his displeasure. Not only is is surprising that the legend has persisted, but also that similar ridiculous sayings exist in other European nations: in France St. Medard on 8 June; in Belgium St. Godelieve on 27 July; and in Germany the day of the Seven Sleepers on 27 June.

A piece of kelp or seaweed hung up will become damp previous to rain - Any truth probably comes from salt remaining on the surface of the weed. Salt is hygroscopic, which means it will absorb moisture when the air is humid. This may mean the chance of rain is slightly higher. Sailors noted that ropes tend to be harder to release ahead of rain (they shrank). Musical stringed instruments sound as tension increased due to shrinking. Rush matting was found to shrink in dry and expand in hot weather.