Paddlers live at the mercy of the weather. On a calm day, we can paddle miles. On a stormy day, a strong headwind makes progress a crawl, and nothing is worse than lightning striking during a long crossing. Having simple tools to help predict the weather during a paddling trip helps with the decision making process. It can help answer the question, “To go or not to go?” In the backcountry, one type of weather prediction available is weather lore, which is a collection of folk sayings that help predict the weather. These sayings can be helpful for paddlers wishing to predict the weather. Here are a few favorite weather lore sayings.
- Red sky at night sailor’s delight; red sky in the morning sailor’s take warning. Perhaps the most well-know saying. In the northern hemisphere weather typically moves west to east. When the sun can cast it’s light up on the underbelly of the clouds, it means that the sky is clear in that direction. So, if there’s a red sunset, there must be clear skies to the west. If there’s a red sunrise, the clear weather has passed to the east and bad weather is overhead. Another version: A rainbow in the morning, is the sailor’s warning; a rainbow at night is the sailor’s delight. Rainbows appear opposite the sun, so it must be clear in the direction of the sun. In the morning, it’s the east. In the evening, it’s the west.
- A ring around the sun or moon, means rain or snow coming soon. Halos form from the sun reflecting off of high altitude ice crystals. This may mean that a storm is blowing in and sending moisture high into the sky. When sun dogs surround the sun, weather will deteriorate within 18-36 hours.
- Frost or dew in the morning light, shows no rain before the night. And, when grass is dry at morning light, look for rain before the night. This saying depends on the night sky. If it’s calm and clear at night, the temperature will drop and dew forms. If it’s windy and cloudy, dew probably won’t form. Clouds and wind can indicate bad weather moving in.
- Mackerel sky and mare’s tails make tall ships carry low sails. Thin high cirrocumulus clouds that look like fish scales with blue sky in-between or long wispy high cirrus clouds. These clouds could indicate a warm or cold front approaching. Chances are for strong winds and in the case of a warm front, probably rain.
- A veering wind, fair weather; a backing wind, foul weather. Veering winds change direction in a clockwise direction and backing winds change direction in an anticlockwise directions. A veering wind means that the system is passing and a backing wind means the system is arriving.
- If clouds move against the wind, rain will follow. Stand with your back against the wind. If the upper level clouds are coming from the left, a system is approaching from the west. If the upper level clouds are coming from the right, the weather will be clear.
- When the glass falls low, prepare for a blow; When it rises high, let all your kites fly. This saying has to do with the type of pressure system that is approaching. Low pressure systems bring unstable weather and high pressure system more stable. So, when your barometer shows a falling pressure, expect bad weather, and good weather when it rises.
Do you have some favorite sayings?
Weather Lore Downloads and Resources
- Weather folk-lore and local weather signs by Edward Bennett Garriott: A U.S. Department of Agriculture publication from 1903 and now in the public domain. Includes lots of weather lore and prediction tools for cities across the U.S.
- Folklore in Meteorology: WRGB’s collected weather lore sayings and explanations.