Where Does Weather Folklore Come From?

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In today's modern world where computers run entire weather predictions sans human input (except for hitting a few keystrokes), weather folklore -- sayings and proverbs that relate observable events in nature to expected weather happenings -- may sound more whimsical than wise. But as naive as it may now seem to simply listen to the land if you want to know what it will do, at one time, this was the only form of forecasting and weather prediction humans had.

Forecasts Backed By Mother Nature Herself

Long before there was such a thing as meteorologists or tools like mercury barometers or thermometers were invented to indicate the arrival of weather changes, farmers, seafarers, and others whose daily work was tied to the weather had nothing to clue them in on what the day's weather would bring. To remedy this, people began observing how animals, plants, insects, and even they themselves behaved just before certain weather events. After years and years of noticing these patterns, folks began expecting certain weather based on whether or not they observed these certain events in nature. They then created rhymes to make the connections easily remembered and shared.

Sadly, as weather instruments were invented and put the power of measuring changes in weather into the hands of each individual, weather lore soon took on a reputation as being unscientific and mostly untrue superstitions.

Which Sayings Ring True?

While weather lore isn't used today in making official weather predictions, it is still appreciated and practiced by some. The following pieces of lore are especially well-known because weather science tells us the nature-weather relationship our ancestors observed in them is in fact a true connection.

Red sky at morning, sailors take warning,
Red sky at night, sailor's delight.

Weather generally moves from west to east. And in the morning, the sun rises in the east. So if morning skies are red, it means clear skies to the east permit the sun to light the undersides of moisture-bearing clouds in the west. Since these clouds are located to the west, they'll likely approach your location that same day, bringing stormy weather. Conversely, the sun is in the west in the evening. So if you observe red skies at sunset, it means sunlight must have a clear path from the west to illuminate moisture-bearing clouds moving off to the east. Because the west is generally the direction that storms move in from, stable air in that direction indicates you'll have good weather for the time being.

More: Why do sunsets and sunrises turn blue skies red?

If a circle forms 'round the sun or moon,
'Twill rain or snow soon.

Halos appear around the sun and moon whenever high clouds made of ice crystals, like cirrostratus, refract sunlight and moonlight. It indicates that moisture is indeed in the air (at higher altitudes) and could descend to lower altitudes where it'll likely fall as precipitation.

No weather is ill,
If the wind be still.

Winds are caused by changes in pressure, so if there is no wind and conditions are calm, it indicates that high pressure (fair weather) is settled over an area. Always wondered why high pressure is related to fair weather and low pressure to rain and storminess? Read that explanation here...

When the wind is blowing in the East,
'Tis not fit for man nor beast.

Since weather moves from east to west, and winds signal disturbed weather, winds blowing in the east mean that unsettled weather will soon approach.

A coming storm your shooting corns presage,
And aches will throb, your hollow tooth will rage.

Storms are linked to low pressure. And a fall in atmospheric pressure can cause fluids and tissues in the body to expand, meaning already injured or inflamed joints and nerves are aggravated further.


More: Can weather be hazardous to your medical health?

What piece of weather lore do you swear by? Use #wxfolklore to share it with us on About Weather's Twitter and Facebook social pages. 


Last updated November 2015.