Bri­tons’ faith in weather lore leaves me­te­o­rol­o­gists scratch­ing heads

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

LON­DON — Nearly twothirds of peo­ple in Bri­tain be­lieve cows lay­ing down on the grass is a sign it’s about to rain.

It is just one of many folk­lore be­liefs many Bri­tish peo­ple have used over gen­er­a­tions to gauge the weather. Me­te­o­rol­o­gists at the Met Of­fice put the be­liefs un­der the mi­cro­scope, and gave their ver­dict on Tues­day.

It seems some old-fash­ioned meth­ods of pre­dict­ing the forth­com­ing weather turned out to be true.


More than 60 per­cent of Bri­tons be­lieve cows re­ally do lie down when it’s about to rain, while three-quar­ters of the Bri­tish pub­lic have used folk­lore such as “red sky at night, shep­herd’s de­light” to pre­dict the weather.

“The Bri­tish pub­lic’s fas­ci­na­tion with the weather is well-known. We found in a new sur­vey that the use of th­ese say­ings was more preva­lent than ex­pected, with three quar­ters of UK adults say­ing they use folk­lore to pre­dict the weather,” said a spokesman for the Met Of­fice.

The most com­monly-used say­ings were: “Red sky at night, shep­herd’s de­light” (used by 70 per­cent of adults); “It can be too cold to snow” (49 per­cent); “Cows lie down when it is about to rain” (44 per­cent); and “Pine cones open up when good weather is com­ing” (26 per­cent).

And al­most a quar­ter be­lieve the claim that if it rains on St Swithin’s Day, July 15, it will rain on each of the next 40 days.

Fifty-eight per­cent of adults think that th­ese meth­ods are ac­cu­rate to some de­gree, with al­most two thirds be­liev­ing they can be more re­li­able than of­fi­cial fore­casts.

How­ever, nearly half of adults who have used tra­di­tional meth­ods to pre­dict the weather say they have been “caught out”.

Met Of­fice me­te­o­rol­o­gist Char­lie Pow­ell, who in­ves­ti­gated the science be­hind the folk­lore, said: “We were blown away by just how many peo­ple use tra­di­tional meth­ods to fore­cast the weather. How­ever, some of th­ese weather say­ings are backed up by science and can help to give a sense of what sort of weather may be on its way. Oth­ers, such as cows ly­ing down when it is about to rain, are noth­ing more than old wives’ tales.”

“But ei­ther way, none of the meth­ods are as ac­cu­rate as of­fi­cial fore­casts and the re­search demon­strates that many peo­ple have been caught out by re­ly­ing on weather folk­lore,” added Pow­ell.

So which of the folk­lore meth­ods are based on science and which are sim­ply myths?

Red sky at night, shep­herd’s de­light, mean­ing good weather, is ac­cord­ing to the Met Of­fice, largely cor­rect. This is be­cause high pres­sure tends to lead to good weather. High pres­sure traps dust and dirt in the air, which scat­ters blue light, only leav­ing the red light re­main­ing, hence the red­dish ap­pear­ance of the sky.

But cows lay­ing down when it is about to rain is un­true, says the Met Of­fice. Cows lie down for a num­ber of rea­sons, in­clud­ing just hav­ing a rest, and there is no ev­i­dence to sug­gest it is re­lated to the like­li­hood of rain.

of peo­ple in Bri­tain be­lieve cows lie down when it is about to rain, ac­cord­ing to the study. The Met Of­fice said there is no ev­i­dence to sug­gest this is true.

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