With a lit­tle guid­ance, you too can pre­dict the weather by study­ing the clouds

Times of the Islands - - Departments - BY DIANE Y ORK

Heav­enly Mes­sages

Liv­ing in the Gulf Coast area, we are in­ti­mately con­nected to the weather. The clouds here are spec­tac­u­lar, putting on a show each evening at sun­set as they boil up in fan­tas­tic shapes and re­flect the mul­ti­ple col­ors of the set­ting sun. But can you fore­cast the weather from watch­ing the sky? Vet­eran sailors, Shake­speare and even the bi­ble say yes.

“Red sky at night, sailor’s de­light, red sky at morn­ing, sailor take warn­ing” is the best- known weather say­ing that re­lates to the sky. That maxim goes back to the time of Christ. In the Bi­ble ( Matthew 16: 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.” Shake­speare re­peated the same adage in his play

Venus and Ado­nis. From the be­gin­ning of writ­ten his­tory, we have been look­ing to the sky to try to pre­dict the weather.

Ask any­one who makes their liv­ing on the wa­ter about the say­ing and you might be sur­prised. Wes Skin­ner of Fish Skin­ner’s Char­ters out of Fort My­ers has been on the Gulf wa­ters since he was a child. He’s had his own char­ter busi­ness for the past seven years. “In my ex­pe­ri­ence, it seems to hold true,” says Skin­ner, who agrees with the rhyme, “red sky at night, sailor’s de­light, red sky in morn­ing, sailor take warn­ing.”

Sci­ence backs him up. “Red sky in the morn­ing . . .” refers to the ris­ing sun re­flect­ing off of western clouds that are bring­ing rain. The “red sky at night . . . ” refers to the set­ting sun be­ing vis­i­ble and re­flect­ing off of east­ern clouds that have al­ready passed. “When clouds ap­pear like tow­ers, the earth is re­freshed by fre­quent show­ers” and “If clouds are taller than they are wider, watch out for thun­der­storms” are two other old weather warn­ings. Skin­ner says, “When I see clouds pil­ing up in the af­ter­noon, get­ting higher and higher, I know we are go­ing to have a rain­storm.” Weath­er­men ex­plain the tow­er­ing cas­tles-in- the- sky for­ma­tions as the re­sult of strong up­drafts of moist air con­dens­ing into clouds. If the up­drafts are sus­tained long enough, the clouds will get too full and rain will fall. Rain- free clouds look like wide, bil­lowy cot­ton with no “tow­ers.”

There is an­other old saw that refers to the “halo” ef­fect around the moon at night. “Ring around the moon, rain real soon” is fre­quently true as light rain and fog seem to fol­low this oc­cur­rence. Sci­en­tists say the halo that ap­pears around the moon is ac­tu­ally a thin layer of cir­rus clouds made of ice crys­tals re­flect­ing the moon’s light. These thin cir­rus clouds are the first to move in ahead of an ap­proach­ing storm sys­tem. It does not al­ways rain, but the halo in­creases that pos­si­bil­ity and the more vivid the halo, the higher the chance of rain.

While these say­ings turn out to have ba­sis in fact, lo­cal sea cap­tains have a few ob­ser­va­tions of their own about the


sky and weather pre­dic­tions. Capt. Noah Ste­wart grew up on Sani­bel and op­er­ates a char­ter- boat ser­vice out of Fort My­ers. He uses a smart­phone to get the most cur­rent in­for­ma­tion, but he adds: “Weather fore­casts can be in­ac­cu­rate. To sched­ule my trips I must con­stantly be cal­cu­lat­ing the weather. In the win­ter when you see a great black bank of clouds that comes rolling in like a wall, that is a cold front com­ing through. It sucks the warm air in and that means bad weather.” Ste­wart’s ob­ser­va­tions are backed by weath­er­men who agree that cold fronts tend to ap­pear like “a seething black wall of very low clouds.”

Scott McPhee of Sani­bel, who spent five years sail­ing his Cal- Ketch 2- 46 around the world, says the clouds are a help in fore­cast­ing weather. “If you see light, wispy cir­rocu­mu­lus mov­ing very fast and all over the sky this could mean a weather front, pos­si­bly a trop­i­cal de­pres­sion, will be com­ing in 12 to 18 hours. Your barom­e­ter will help you de­ter­mine what’s hap­pen­ing,” says McPhee. Eric Sloane’s fa­mous

Weather Book agrees: “Hur­ri­canes are of­ten pre­ceded by a sky filled with cir­rus clouds. By watch­ing the move­ment and the di­rec­tion in which the streaks are pointed, you can get a sense of which di­rec­tion the weather front is mov­ing.”

So, wher­ever you are go­ing, what­ever you are do­ing, keep an eye to the sky. Weather fore­casts are only so re­li­able, and the Florida Gulf sky has a mind of its own.


A red sky with mixed clouds at sun­set means fair weather for Sani­bel beach­go­ers.

From left: Low- ly­ing stra­tus clouds, with cir­rus and cu­mu­lus in the back­ground, hover over the Gulf of Mex­ico; a cold front mov­ing in over the Sani­bel Cause­way.

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