Matt's World Of Weather: February Folklore Series

Red sky at night, Sailor's Delight
Red sky at morning, Sailor's Take Warning

Easy to remember and from a weather standpoint, it's pretty easy to comprehend. The old saying has been passed along from generation to generation for more than 2,000 years and yields information about future weather conditions.

From a science perspective, the folklore is based on the west to east progression of our weather systems. Generally, the weather impacting parts of the west coast will eventually impact the East Coast. It is this simple movement that gives our saying so much life and has allowed it to be heard well into this century. Keeping things really simple, as low pressure moves out of the area it is quickly replaced by high pressure. Below I'll describe the high and low pressure systems and then I encourage you to click on the video to see how this "atmospheric dance" gives us our folklore.

High pressure: Traditionally high pressure brings about dry conditions and calm, clear skies. Most sailors would prefer to hit the open waters under the influence of a high pressure system rather than take their chances sailing under a low pressure system.

Low pressure: An area with lower pressure is often associated with, well, "lousy" weather (notice the L's?). Cold fronts, rainy days, gusty winds and angry seas are commonly found when a low pressure system passes over an area. The "sailors take warning" part of the folklore comes from the passing of a low pressure system.

For those who enjoy a little Bill Shakespeare to go along with their cup of weather folklore here is a passage from Venus and Adonis (1593):

“Like a red morn that ever yet betokened,
Wreck to the seaman, tempest to the field,
Sorrow to the shepherds, woe unto the birds,
Gusts and foul flaws to herdmen and to herds.”

A new set of lores will be up for voting on Sunday morning. Join us at 7:30am on WITN to cast your vote for the next World of Weather folklore topic.

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  • by Linda Location: Grimesland, NC on Feb 1, 2012 at 06:42 PM
    Very interesting, but you didn't tell where the saying came from. The Holy Bible, Matthew 16:2b-3a When it is 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 lowring.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Feb 2, 2012 at 10:26 AM in reply to Linda
      Actually the observation can be traced back further than the bible... "Around 650 B.C., the Babylonians observed cloud patterns to predict the weather. The Greek philosopher Aristotle described weather patterns in Meteorologica (ca. 350 B.C.) and later, his student Theophrastus compiled the Book of Signs which dealt with weather forecasting. The ancient forecasting methodology was based on simple scientific observation. For example, if the sunset was red, fair weather was predicted for the following day. Over the centuries, this led to weather lore and proverbs"

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