Have you ever heard anyone use the proverb above?
Shakespeare did. He said something similar in his play, Venus
and Adonis. “Like a red morn that ever yet betokened,
Wreck to the seaman, tempest to the field, Sorrow to the shepherds,
woe unto the birds, Gusts and foul flaws to herdmen and to herds.”
In the Bible, (Matthew XVI: 2-3,) Jesus said, “When in evening,
ye say, it will be fair weather: For the sky is red. And in the
morning, it will be foul weather today; for the sky is red and lowering.”
Weather lore has been around since people needed to predict the
weather and plan their activities. Sailors and farmers relied on
it to navigate ships and plant crops.
But can weather lore truly predict the weather or seasons?
Weather lore concerning the appearance of the sky, the conditions
of the atmosphere, the type or movement of the clouds, and the
of the winds may have a scientific basis and likely can predict
In order to understand why “Red sky at night, sailor’s
delight. Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning” can
predict the weather, we must understand more about weather and
in the sky.
Usually, weather moves from west to east. In the mid-latitudes, the prevailing winds are westerlies. This means storm systems generally move in from the West.
The colors we see in the sky are due to the rays
of sunlight being split into colors of the spectrum as they
through the atmosphere and ricochet off the water vapor and particles
in the atmosphere. The amounts of water vapor and dust particles
in the atmosphere are good indicators of weather conditions. They
also determine which colors we will see in the sky.
During sunrise and sunset
the sun is low in the sky, and it transmits light through the
thickest part of the atmosphere. A red sky suggests an atmosphere
with dust and moisture particles. We see the red, because red wavelengths
(the longest in the color spectrum) are breaking through the atmosphere.
The shorter wavelengths, such as blue, are scattered and broken
Red sky at night, sailors delight.
When we see a red sky at night, this means that the setting sun
is sending its light through a high concentration of dust particles.
This usually indicates high pressure and stable air coming in from
the west. Basically good weather will follow.
Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning.
A red sunrise can mean that a high pressure system (good weather) has already passed, thus indicating that a storm system (low pressure) may be moving to the east. A morning sky that is a deep, fiery red can indicate that there is high water content in the atmosphere. So, rain could be on its way.
To learn more about weather lore and proverbs see the following
Related Web Sites and For Further Reading sections.
- Curiosities - What determines the colors of the sky at sunrise and sunset? From the Univeristy of Wisconsin, Madison, Nov. 2007.
- Red Sky in Morning - This page from the NOAA Earth Systems Research Laboratory looks at the science behind the saying.
- Scientific vailidity - Joe Sienkiewicz, chief of the Ocean Applications Branch and a science and operations officer with the NOAA/NWS Ocean Prediction Center, explains the scientific validity of the saying. Scientific American.
Forecasting Through the Ages, by Steve Graham, Claire
Parkinson, and Mous Chahine -
This article from the Earth Observatory at NASA discusses
the history of predicting weather.
Proverbs. Fact or Fiction? -
This Web site discusses weather proverbs that, under the
right circumstances, hold up to science.
Michael. Weather lore. In Encyclopedia of
weather and climate, vol. 2. New York, Facts on File, c2002. p. 625-636.
Spencer, and Antonia Felix. Can it really rain frogs?
The world’s strangest weather events. New York,
Wiley, 1997. 121 p. (Juvenile).
Edward F. The Old farmer’s almanac of weather lore:
the fact and fancy behind weather predictions, superstitions,
old-time sayings, and traditions. Dublin, N.H., Yankee
Books, c1988. 224 p.
Frank H. Weather lore- Facts and fancies. In
1001 questions answered about the weather. New York,
Dover, 1981. p.
G.D. Weather proverbs: how 600 proverbs, sayings,
and poems accurately explain our weather. Tucson, AZ, Fisher
Books, c1992. 214 p.
- Garriott, Edward B. Weather folk-lore and local weather signs. Washington, Gov't Printing Office, 1903. 153 p.
Available online: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000371726
Albert. Weather wisdom: being an illustrated practical
volume wherein is contained unique compilation and analysis
of the facts and folklore of natural weather prediction. Garden City, NY, Doubleday, 1976. 180 p.
wisdom: proverbs, superstitions, and signs. New York,
Peter Lang, c1996. 478 p.
more print resources...
Search on "Weather
folklore," "Weather lore," "meteorology" or
in the Library of Congress Online
Sunrise NOAA Photo Library
Sunset highlighting dense cirrus clouds NOAA Photo Library.
Amur Bay, training
ship "Nadezhda", Vladivostok, Russia Prints & Photographs
Division, Library of Congress.
American man, Charles Batties(?), wearing sailor uniform. Prints
& Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Also see: African
American Odyssey: The Civil War