There is so much lore related to forecasting the weather, some of it seems related to fish?? Which is not surprising (that is the forecasting, not the fish).
Given that formal prediction didn’t exist until the C19th before which people needed to rely on nature to forecast what was to come.
Weather Lore is the term used to refer to the body of informal folklore relating to predicting the weather.
Many of our ancestors relied on farming to survive. Getting it right could mean the difference between a crop saved and a crop lost.
Do these lores hold up though in scientific terms? Where the weather lore checks out against the science it has a ✓, where it doesn’t it has a X.
Mackerel Sky – “Mackerel Sky, Mackeral Sky, Never long wet, Never long dry” (✓ )
A Mackerel Sky is a name given to a sky covered with puffy cirrocumulus and altocumulus clouds. Arranged in a pattern of waves, with blue sky peeking through so that it resembles the scales on the back of a mackerel.
It is a phenomena caused by moisture in the mid levels of the atmosphere getting trapped between dry air at the surface and dry cold air in high levels. The wind and gravity is what causes the rippled look. Cirrocumulus clouds often show up ahead of a warm front and are usually a decent indicator that the weather is about to change.
When the clouds are high and the barometric pressure begins to fall, it usually means that precipitation associated with a disturbance is likely about 6 to 12 hours away. But when the cloud starts to thicken up and the cloud base lowers into altostratus or altocumulus, it is a good sign that the warm front may be closer and it may start raining in less than six hours.
“Ne’er cast a clout, ’til THE May is out.” (✓ )
‘Clout’, as in ‘Cloutie or Clooty’, in British dialects = cloth/leather. So this lore is referring to casting aside clothing.
Most people miss out the word THE in this lore; as a result they presume that it is talking about the month of May.
THE May on the other hand is the flower of the Hawthorn tree (Crataegus monogyna) which is commonly known as the Mayflower in England.
It is a piece of lore advising that it is unwise to cast aside your extra winter clothing layers until the flower of the Hawthorn tree has come out. The Hawthorn is a remarkable tree (associated with the Fae, but that is another article), she will not produce flowers until even the remotest danger of frost has gone. In personal experience, this gets a ✓.
“When the bees crowd out of their hive, the weather makes it good to be alive” (?)
Bees hang out outside the hive on extremely warm days. Bee-keepers call this ‘bearding‘. The temperature inside a hive can be warm and moist; even in the winter.
Bees cannot regulate their body temperature and need the air to cool off. So combined heat from the weather and normal hive activity can cause the wax capping the honey to melt and the larva in the hive to bake.
Making space in the hive by moving outside helps to increase the airflow and cool things down. Bees have even been known to line up and fan their wings to encourage drafts. The saying is correct but you don’t need the bees to tell you that it is extremely warm – you will probably notice.
“He that takes his time to change with Moon, It is a sign his brains are out of tune”. (John Claridge, The Shepherds Legacy, Banbury 1670). (?)
Not so much weather lore in its own right, but the last paragraph of the section on ‘How the Weather is known by the Moon’ in the wonderful little book (as stated). I think it a warning that you should act quickly on the signs of changing weather as indicated by the Moon?
“Red sky at night, Shepherd’s delight. Red sky in morning, Shepherd’s warning.” (or Sailor’s) (✓)
This is one piece of Lore that is backed by science. It is an old weather saying often used at sunrise and sunset to signify the changing sky. It was originally known to help the shepherds prepare for the next day’s weather.
A red sky appears when dust and small particles are trapped in the atmosphere by high pressure. This scatters blue light leaving only red light to give the sky its notable appearance.
The saying is most reliable when weather systems predominantly come from the west as they do in the UK.
A red sky at sunset means high pressure is moving in from the west, so therefore the next day will usually be dry and pleasant.
A red sky in the morning means that the high-pressure weather system has already moved east. Meaning the good weather has passed, most likely making way for a wet and windy low-pressure system.
When the wind is out of the East, tis never good for man nor beast (✓)
If you are in the UK this one carries some truth. The air mass coming in from a northeasterly direction is the ‘polar continental’. This air mass originates in places such as Eastern Europe and Russia and in the winter brings bitterly cold winds and potential heavy winter weather (remember the ‘Beast from the East?). It is usually most apparent between November and April.
Cows lie down when it’s about to rain (X)
Not necessarily. There are a lot of theories surrounding this one, from them preserving a patch of dry grass to easing their 4 stomachs. However, it may be as simple as the fact that cows lie down a lot. They spend up to 12 hours a day lying on the ground, relaxing, napping and chewing the cud. Yes, cows lie down when it’s going to rain. They also lie down when it’s going to be sunny, partly cloudy, and every other forecast you can think of.
“As the days lengthen, the cold strengthens.” (✓)
This is another one that is scientifically correct. Many people falsely believe (or maybe hope) that once the days start to grow longer after the winter solstice (21st December) that the temperatures will start to increase as the minutes of daylight do. Unfortunately they don’t, at least not right away.
The reason is something that is know as “seasonal lag”. Seasonal lag is the phenomenon where the date of minimum average temperature at a geographical location is delayed until sometime after the date of minimum insolation (daylight). This also applies in the summer when the maximum average air temperature is delayed before it starts to drop until sometime after the longest day of the year.
Earth’s seasonal lag is largely caused by the presence of large amounts of water. It takes longer to warm those large bodies of water; conversely, it takes longer for them to cool too.
Animals in Weather Lore (?)
A significant strand of Weather Lore focuses on changes in animal and plant life and how this fortells changes in the weather and the seasons. One of the most comprehensive records is in a publication called ‘Weather Lore’ by Richard Inwards. This was published in 1869 and out of the thirty two animal signs thirty are about rain, snow or bad weather.
- Goats – In Scotland it is said that Goats leave the high grounds and seek shelter before a storm (sensible goats in Scotland).
- Sheep – When sheep turn their backs to the wind it is a sign of rain.
- Pigs – When pigs carry straw to their sties bad weather is on the way.
- Mice – If mice run about more than usual, wet weather is coming.
- Moles – If moles throw up more earth than usual it means rain is indicated.
- Hares – (Scotland) Hares take the open country before a snow storm.
- Birds – (Scotland) When the Fieldfare, Redwing, Starling Swan, Snowfleck (provincial name in Scotland for the Snow-Bunting), and other birds of passage arrive soon from the north, it indicates the probability of an early and severe winter.
The animals in weather lore can’t be confirmed (especially those in Scotland). It would be interesting to know if any of our Community Members have any experience of any of them.