People have been predicting the weather for centuries.
Long before we had fancy things like computer models and meteorology, superstition and folklore surrounded how weather was predicted.
Let's explore some of these weather sayings and discover their meanings!
Animals and Bugs in Weather Folklore
There are some weird sayings about animals revolving around weather prediction. People have used everything from caterpillars and butterflies to geese and cows...and even fish!
These sayings are from observations surrounding the appearance or actions of animals.
For example, if you see a wooly caterpillar and there is a big brown patch in its middle with small black patches on either end, the winter will be long and hard.
If there are lots of yellow butterflies about in the fall, again, the winter will be a tough one.
Winter was a big concern for people, and that’s where many of the old weather folklore focuses. It was a tough season.
Folks couldn’t grow food. The people hoped what they had stored would last throughout the cold season!
Old World Weather Traditions Cross The Ocean
And then there are the traditions which followed from one continent to the new:
Groundhog Day! If the groundhog sees his shadow on February 2nd, there will be an early spring.
Watching Other Animals For Weather Predictions
Noticing the flight patterns of birds shows up in many old sayings about rain prediction.
“If geese are flying high, and honking as they go, the weather will be fair. If they’re flying low, there’s a storm coming.”
And people on the farms would pay attention to what their animals were up to.
Cows tend to wander when they’re put out to pasture.
“If the cows come home in the middle of the day, bad weather is on its way!”
Which is another way to say if the cows get mooooooving, so should the people!
One more weather saying involves fish.
"Trout jump high when rain is nigh."
Insects tend to be more active just before a storm, and the fish "jump" at the opportunity to have a snack!
Taking Weather Hints from the Sky
There are sayings which are pretty accurate, and have nothing to do with how big the brown patch is on caterpillars or where the cows tend to be midday.
One of the most recognizable is “Red sky at night, sailor's delight. Red sky at morning, sailor take warning.”
This saying been around for a very long time. The first written mention of this is all the way back in 1395.
You can bet it was passed about the sailing community way before anyone ever decided to write it down, though.
The Weather Behind the Saying
What happens with this phenomenon is a red sunset means that the suns rays are passing through a lot of dust and moisture in the air.
When this happens, it means that there is high pressure in the air. High pressure means stable weather. No storms.
The saying applies not only to seafaring people, but was also used by shepherds out in the fields with their flocks.
“If the clouds are tall, rain will fall.”
And a variant on that, “If in the sky you see cliffs and towers, it won’t be long before there is a shower.”
This saying comes from the big, tall cloud formations that gather before a rain storm.
These cumulonimbus clouds are what forms along the edge of a storm front. When you see those kinds of clouds, there will be thunder and lightning too!
And this one...
“If wooly fleece bestows the heavenly way, be sure no rain will come today.”
Wooly fleece refers to the puffy, fluffy clouds. They’re called cumulus clouds, but they’re also known as fair weather clouds.
When you see those fluffy, sheep-looking clouds, the weather is stable and nice.
Do you often see the fun shapes in the sky these clouds make?
“A halo around the sun or moon means we’ll be seeing rain soon.”
Have you ever seen that phenomenon? You look up at the moon and there’s a halo around it! It’s a pretty cool sight.
This is caused by wispy cirrus clouds high in the sky. Clouds hanging out that high up are cold and full of ice crystals.
The light from the moon, or the sun, reflects off the ice crystals in the clouds. That reflection is where the halo-effect comes from.
The saying is not always the case, but it is true more often than not. Cirrus clouds begin to form well before storm clouds move in.
Another saying about the halo is "When the moon wears a halo around her head, she will cry before morning, and the tears will reach you tomorrow."
When you see the halo, there will be rain or snow in a day or two.
And in the fall, farmers watch the moon and say, "Clear moon, frost soon."
Plants and Trees in Weather Folklore
There are even sayings which involve plants and trees. People tend to be quite creative, and often poetic, when it comes to predicting the weather.
Pretty, huh? The short version of that is April showers bring May flowers.
That little poem is actually a translation of a much older version, written in “Olde English,” by an author named Geoffrey Chaucer.
The quick little verses are easy to remember, and fun to use.
“Onion skin very thin, mild winter coming in. Onion skin thick and tough, the winter will be cold and rough.”
The outer layer of skin on an onion can be super thin. When you try to peel it off, it crumbles and flakes. Then you have the super thick skin on some which comes off in one huge piece!
Funny how it doesn’t say anything about onions which have thick skin on one side, and thin skin on the other.
“Oak before ash, in for a splash. Ash before oak, in for a soak.”
Watching which trees bud first has been used to predict the weather.
With this particular one, if an oak tree begins to get leaves before the ash tree does, it’ll be a mild spring.
But look out if the ash tree buds first! It’ll be a bit soggy.
What Are Your Favorite Weather Sayings?
Old sayings about the weather are fun to read and find and, sometimes, try and decipher.
See if you can find more and share them in the comments!