FORECAST OR FICTION?
Today we’re blessed with instant weather updates delivered directly to our phones, but for centuries walkers relied on rhymes, lore and the occasional old wives’ tale to predict the elements on forays into the great outdoors. Were any of them true?
In his new book Reading The Clouds, Oliver Perkins dedicates a chapter to exploring the truth behind quirky proverbs that have been recited by generations of walkers.
“RED SKY AT NIGHT, SHEPHERD’S DELIGHT RED SKY IN THE MORNING, SHEPHERD’S WARNING”
This famous proverb first appeared in the Bible, and does have elements of truth to it. For a red sky to occur at night there must be clear skies in the west, with cloud in the east for the setting sun to shine on. This often means the weather will improve through the night as weather systems generally come from the west, pushing clear skies eastwards in time for sunrise in the morning.
FACT “NO WEATHER IS ILL, IF THE WIND BE STILL”
Lack of wind is a characteristic of anticyclones, which often bring fair weather and clear skies. There are exceptions to this rule but generally if the wind is calm for more than an hour that often indicates the presence of an anticyclone.
FACT “WHEN YOUR JOINTS START TO ACHE, RAINY WEATHER IS AT STAKE”
During low pressure, which brings wet weather, tissues expand in the body and put pressure on joints. Arthritic people often say they can predict bad weather, but as joint pain can be caused by many things this saying is unreliable at best.
FICTION “A HALO AROUND THE SUN OR MOON MEANS RAIN OR SNOW COMING SOON”
The refraction of light in the ice crystals of cirrostratus clouds causes halos, and said clouds are often present before a depression approaches. And as depressions bring rain or snow, this proverb is frequently proved to be true.
FACT “THE SHARPER THE BLAST, THE SOONER ‘TIS PAST”
This suggests the more ferocious the downpour, the shorter it will last. There is truth to this during thunderstorms, which often last less than an hour, but during warm fronts heavy rain often lasts hours – or even days.
FICTION “WHEN DEW IS ON THE GRASS, RAIN WILL NEVER COME TO PASS”
Dew forms when the ground radiates out its heat at night, cooling the air directly above it. The cool air then sheds the water it is carrying, which condenses around blades of grass and plants to form dew. For this to happen there generally needs to be a clear night sky, which indicates anticyclonic conditions that bring fair weather.