“Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight” – 6 weather myths debunked


Red sky at night and other weather myths debunked

In the days before weather forecasts, people often turned to sayings and proverbs to provide an indication of what tomorrow’s weather might bring.

Dating back thousands of years, weather forecasting had to rely less on scientific data and more on human experience.

From this, developed the old weather sayings and phrases we see and hear today.

Red sky at night

The concept of “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning” first appears in the Bible in the book of Matthew. It is an old weather saying often used at sunrise and sunset to signify the changing sky and originally known to help the shepherds prepare for the next day’s weather.

Despite there being global variations in this saying such as “Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky in morning, sailors warning”, the scientific understanding behind such occurrences remain the same.

The saying is most reliable when weather systems predominantly come from the west as they do in the UK. “Red sky at night, shepherds delight” can often be proven true, since red sky at night means fair weather is generally headed towards you.

A red sky at sunset means high pressure is moving in from the west so therefore the next day will usually be dry and pleasant.

Cows lie down when it’s about to rain

A number of theories have been proposed for this, some say that cows are particularly sensitive to atmospheric pressure while others have suggested they sense the moisture in the air and lie down to save themselves a dry patch of grass.

However, cows lie down for many reasons and there’s no scientific evidence that rain is one of them.

More likely they are just relaxing and chewing their cud.

Pine cones open when good weather is on the way

This is one of the sayings that is grounded in scientific fact.

The opening and closing of pines cones is dictated by humidity.

In dry weather, pine cones open out as the drying scales shrivel and stand out stiffly.  In damp conditions the increased moisture allows more flexibility and the cone returns to its normal closed shape.

When halo rings Moon or Sun, rain’s approaching on the run

When a ring appears around the Moon or Sun, this suggests rainfall may be approaching. The halo is caused by ice crystals formed in high clouds. These ice crystals then refract the light from the Moon or Sun. As the ice crystals travel lower, precipitation becomes more likely. In summer months particularly, the Halo can be a sign of approaching storms.

When the wind is out of the East, tis never good for man nor beast

Sort of true.

The air mass coming in from a north-easterly direction is the ‘polar continental;’ record low temperatures have been seen due to this air mass affecting Britain. This air mass originates in places such as Eastern Europe and Russia to affect Britain with bitterly cold winds in winter and dry, warm winds in summer although it is usually only apparent in Britain during winter (between November and April).

Mackerel sky and mare’s tails make tall ships carry low sails

This weather proverb originates from when different cloud types were used to determine whether sails needed to be lowered. A ‘mackerel sky’ could develop before the instance of a storm which would lead to the lowering of the ship’s sails. Altocumulus clouds appear when there is a certain level of moisture in the air suggesting rainfall is approaching.

The term “mackerel sky” comes from the clouds resemblance to the scales of a mackerel.



A full version of this article is available here –> http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/learning/learn-about-the-weather/how-weather-works/red-sky-at-night