ABC of Weather: Lore

We all grow up knowing all kinds of sayings and snippets about our weather which can be grouped loosely into Weather Lore. Many of these are based on ancient wisdom gathered by early scientists or more localised observations by those close to nature such as farmers and sailors. But do any of them have meaning for today? Well yes, I think they do...

I've already referred to Mackerel sky not 24 hours dry and It's black over Bill's mother's telling us that rain is on it's way when I looked at Clouds. When I wrote about Hair, I talked about how it changes with humidity so it's used by both amateur weather forecasters and the developers of early hygrometers. You may also familiar with the use of seaweed or pine cones to predict the weather. Both are used in the same way as hair as they react to the amount of moisture in the atmosphere.

I think my earliest memory of a weather related saying is Red sky at night shepherd's delight. Red sky in the morning shepherds warning [or sailor's - Ed]. This tells us it'll be a fine day in the morning if the sky is red at night, but miserable weather is due if the red sky is seen in the morning. However, I didn't know until I started to research this piece that it's referred to in The Bible: Matthew chapter 16, verses 2-3 to be precise. I wonder if this means this saying dates back at least 2,000 years to biblical times or from much later when The Bible was finally written down?

Another early weather related memory of mine is from car outings with my grandad when my cousins and I would shout Oh no it's going to rain whenever we saw cows lying down in the fields. The received wisdom is they can sense moisture so find somewhere dry to lie down, but my agricultural training says they've simply stopped grazing and are now in the next phase of digesting their food: chewing their cud.

My mum's always quoting If the oak flowers before the ash, we shall have a splash. If the ash flowers before the oak, we shall have a soak. I don't really know why because we could only see oak trees from our house, so we never knew which had come into leaf first. The splash predicts good weather over the next few weeks, and the soak miserable weather ahead. Today I have ash trees by the side of the house and oak trees up the allotment, but I always forgot to see if this saying comes true!

When I was 5 years old I attended my first Christmas party put on by the firm where my dad worked. I got thoroughly confused when it came to Santa's visit and present giving time that I went up with the 10 year olds and thus received a present more suited to their age: a copy of Zoo Fun Book. However I was delighted with my present and enjoyed all the plentiful animal tales (including my first encounter with the Aardvark), puzzles, jokes over many years. It also had a couple of pages on weather lore, 2 of which have stuck in my mind since then.

The first was Rain before 7, fine by 11. This refers to how quickly most weather fronts move across our country. Thus if you wake up and it's raining, it's more than likely it'll clear by mid morning. The other was Rain from the East, two days at least. This saying was accompanied by a rather jolly cartoon of a gentleman in a turban and curly slippers carrying a rain cloud instead of a silver salver with the words 2 days written on it. I can still picture it now. Rain from the east is a rare occurrence in this country, as drier weather tends to come across from our continental cousins. However, when rain does come from that quarter, it's here to stay.

I could tell you so much more about this topic - St Swithin's Day, Groundhog Day, the way some flowers react to the weather to name but three. However that wouldn't leave room for you to have your say. What's your favourite piece of weather lore?

And how's the weather with you today? Here the cold, chilly weather over Easter has gone and it's now set fair for the day :)

For much more in the way of L, do consult the ABC Wednesday blog.


  1. just read the previous comments about 'black over Bills' mothers' - my mum always used to say 'it's black over Ethel's' - so any guesses about the source of that?! (she came from Barnes in London)

  2. Wonderful series of stories about rain predictions! Strange how they have been perpetuated through time and wonder just how much truth there may be in them!

  3. I loved reading all of your weather lore stories and sources!

    There's one here that we have. In the winter time, if we hear thunder, there will be snow within a week. It always seems to be true where I live.

  4. what i remember from my grandmother is if the leaves are turned (over--showing thier bellies) storm is on it's way. also a yellow sky get thee high (yellow= hail). when the weather is warm & sticky in the summer (esp.) but all is silent (birds, breeze) & still, keep close to the storm cellar as it's tornado weather. as for today, it's unseasonably warm!

  5. Seems to me that most of those predictions work almost as well as Doppler, although the time is 'current'. Neat post!

  6. I didn't know about "rain from the east". One that I learnt when my boys were at school was, "Oak before ash, in for a splash. Ash before oak, in for a soak". It apparently referred to the order of leaves appearing in the spring and predicted whether the summer would be wet or dry. So they say.

  7. Our weather is at that glorious stage, where all conversations start with - Isn't this weather lovely?! Between summer heat, and winter rain. Our winter rain is preceded by fierce East wind, coming down from the mountains.

  8. My house in Wales, where I live a bout a third of the year is very near\ to the western tip - there is 20% less rainfall here than at Haverfordwest only ten miles inland.

    Another interesting weather related tip from sea kayaking is to look at where the lichen starts to grow on the sea cliffs - the orange band marks the height that the sea spray reaches. In sheltered coves near us it is about 20 feet up - on the exposed side of Ramsay it is 150 feet up the cliff!

  9. Ooh, I LOVE weather lore. It's almost always wrong, but that doesn't stop me having a little predict. I'm trying to plant by the moon at the moment, which is a bit of a complicated thing, and there's loads of weather lore around the moon. We're just coming up to the the phase of the Red Moon, when it may feel warmer during the day, but the soil temperature is still low enough to 'scorch' young buds and leaves. Then it's time for the Blackthorn Winter, when anything could happen.

  10. What a FUN post! Thanks. Being in the States (Washington) I love hearing UK lore and the differences. Of all those you mentioned the only one we use regularly here (tomy knowledge) is the 'red skys at night sailors delight, red skys in the morning sailors take warning'.

    Easter day weather was beautiful, but today cold and wet. Friday they promise some sun and warmth...can't wait!

  11. The weather is snowy with a chance of snow. We just got another six inches. And I took the studded winter tires off my car last week, drat! You think I'd learn not to be optimistic about spring here.

    Christine in Alaska

  12. Some interesting stuff in there! Some I didn't know, too, like the rain from the east .. thinking about it, it's true that some of our nastier weather comes from the east, but I haven't noticed what happens with rain from the east or from the west - a bit like you with your oak/ash flowers!

    One piece of weather lore I remember from my childhood, is 'if there's enough blue in the sky to make a sailor a pair of trousers, it will be a fine day'.

    I spent hours gazing up into the sky visualising laying out a pair of bell-bottomed trousers on the blue patches! LOL!

    On behalf of the team, thanks for taking part in ABC Wednesday this week - and such a good post, too! :)

  13. "red skies in morning, sailors take warning. red skies at night, sailors' delight."

    It's been rainy after a stretch of unseasonably warm weather.

    Great post; quite informative.

    On behalf of the ABC Wednesday team, thank you!


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