June 6, 2023


Weather has always played an integral part of everyday life long before the advent of technology and the meteorology we know today.

For centuries, oral and written histories have been full of rhymes, proverbs and sayings that have served as a guide for predicting the weather – accurate or not.

Many of these sayings were created by those whose livelihood depended on the weather, such as farmers and sailors who not only had direct ties to nature, but a keen sense of observation as well.

To some, knowing weather two days from now meant all the difference between success and failure.

“Our ancestors didn’t have weather forecasting or reliable weather information, and when they did, it was based on the next day or two days from now.

Not like today where we can turn on the TV and see the long-range forecast,” said David Phillips, senior climatologist for Environment Canada.

Phillips said our ancestors used weather lore to protect themselves, passing it on through the generations using easy to remember rhymes such as, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky at morn, sailor’s take warn,” and other such variations.

“Sometimes the rhyme was forced and threw any science it had out the window. Some didn’t even have science, it was just a keen sense of observation and chance,” Phillips said.

“There was a certain order to nature that caused our ancestors to feel that the weather wasn’t chaotic, that there was something to it. A logic to it.”

However, with all folklore, there is some nuance of possibility.

The more reliable weather lore are the ones not based on animals, plants or insects. They are the ones that make sense and are atmospheric.

These include lore based on the size of snowflakes, the wind, temperature, the sky and their connections to each other.

Phillips said there is some truth to the lore that predicts the short term.

“‘A ring around the sun or moon, rain or snow coming soon’ means high cloud is moving in, followed by middle cloud. Next thing you know, it’s between 24 and 36 hours and you may get rain or snow,” Phillips said.

Imarith Singh, a second-year marketing student who has previously studied meteorology, said the halo around the sun is caused by light being refracted due to ice crystals in the air.

He said that when these ice crystals are arranged horizontally, the light is refracted causing a rainbow effect.

“These rainbows with spots are also called sun dogs … except these dogs won’t poop in your living room,” Singh said.

Sun dogs are often seen as rainbows, but sometimes they appear to be mock suns. Sun dogs are the most visible when the sun is low in the sky.

You are more likely to see them in the winter because of the low angle of the sun, however they can be seen throughout the year.

Phillips said our ancestors noticed this halo-and-rain pattern several times before this proverb was created, and how some people see these types of occurrences for the first time and automatically think it’s some weird phenomena, when it’s been happening around them for years.

“Weather repeats itself,” Phillips said.

He added the weather lore that doesn’t work are those that are based on the season ahead.

“The proverb ‘onion skin very thin, mild winter coming in; onion skin thick and tough, coming winter cold and rough’ tells you about the growing season the onion experienced, not what the next season is going to be like.”

Phillips said that as a meteorologist, he feels that they often spoon-feed people the weather and that technology has caused us to become oblivious to the world around us.

“I’ve often asked children at schools I’ve visited to describe what the sky looked like on the way to school.

I’ve yet to meet a student who can do that,” he said. “I always tell teachers to introduce folklore to their class as a means of rudimentary meteorology.

Even if it just teaches to look up and look out, and not keep our head down.”

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