Posted - 01/26/2017 : 10:50:43 AM
| My 8-year old son is currently studying clouds in his second grade science class. While we were eating dinner last night we discussed the different type of clouds. My wife brought up the proverb, “red skies at night to the sailors delight.” This reminded me of an article that I had written for the site over 12-years ago based on information I had learned while in sea school. I pulled it up and shared some of the content with the family at the dinner table. Though the article is over a decade old the content is still accurate and has been since God created the “sky” on day 2, Genesis Chapter 1 Vs.8. We have added thousands of new readers since this was originally posted so I thought it would be great to re-run this for all to enjoy, from July 2004…
A couple of weeks back I was having a terrible Monday on a Wednesday. I arrived at home from work about 7 pm, tired, frustrated, and in desperate need of some quite time. Within 45-minutes Rusty, my 10-year old Golden Retriever, and I had the boat in the water and I was releasing a small Spanish Mackerel. As I looked back across the harbor at the falling sun I noticed it seemed to be getting dark a little bit earlier than usual. Over the next half hour I continued to release Spanish as I watched the setting sun become eclipsed by dark clouds. Not wanting to leave the fish and the relaxing time I stayed put and hoped that the approaching storm would just skirt around us toward Mt. Pleasant or James Island. The storm never wavered in its travels; however, and I quickly realized it was coming right down the gut of the harbor. I stowed my gear, laid the antennas and rods down and Rusty and I headed straight into the storm. As we approached the battery the temperature dropped 15 degrees and the winds picked up to a steady 35 knots. The heavy winds quickly transformed the harbor from a light chop to a raging 3 to 4-foot standing sea. Strong winds, rough water, lightning popping, blowing rain, a quite evening gone bad within a matter of minutes!
Strong thunderstorms are to be expected in the lowcounty this time of year, and while many of these storms are not always predictable, a close eye to the sky can help avoid many of them. Throughout the centuries and prior to the development of modern technological weather devices, the weather has been read primarily through basic observations. Somewhere along the line, the interpretation of these basic observations has been put into proverbs to make them easier to remember. I find these proverbs to be an easy and helpful way of understanding and reading some of the basic conditions that determine our weather. Provided herein are some of the most popular proverbs and a brief interpretation of each:
“Red skies at night, to the sailors delight. Red skies in the morning sailor take warning” or “Rainbows at night to the sailors delight. Rainbows in the morning, sailors take warning.” This proverb is undoubtedly the most popular; however, for those unfamiliar the interpretation is as follows. Dusty particles, the core for rain, appear red under the sun and as the sun sets in the west it lights the east. If it is red at night we know it is clear to the west, as the sun lights the clouds in the east that are passing or have passed. However, in the morning, as the sun lights the western sky if the sky appears red we know foul weather is on the way as storms travel from west to east.
“Winds that swing against the sun and winds that bring the rain are one. Winds that swing around the sun keep the rain on the run.” Obviously the sun rises or swings from east to west. Winds that swing with the sun easterly and move westerly bring clear skies. However winds that start against the sun, westerly and swing easterly bring foul weather.
“Mackerel skies and mare's tails make tall ships carry low sails.” Heavy cirrus clouds also known as mackerel skies appear like ripples in the sand at the beach and indicate foul weather. Also, high flying cirrus clouds, that resemble the thin wisps of a mare's tail with the wisps pointing up or down, even though often scattered, indicate a high probability of rain; however, if the wisps appear straight out, the weather will be fair.
“When the boat horns sound hollow, rain will surely follow or sound traveling far and wide a stormy day does like abide.” Crystal clear sharp sounds such as church bells ringing in the distance that would normally be faint or voices carrying further than usual are signs of acoustical clarity caused from low clouds reflecting and trapping in sound waves. Just like a canyon wall reflects sound waves, low and heavy clouds do the same and obviously these same clouds will bring foul weather.
“When a halo rings the moon or sun, the rain will come upon the run.” Halos around either the sun or moon are formed by the ice crystals of high cirri form clouds. When the sky is covered with these high clouds, it is usually an indication of an approaching warm front, bringing rain.
While these simple proverbs in no way replace the high tech weather devices of today, they are a quick way in which to understand some of the basic principles that contribute to the formation of our weather systems. I urge everyone to pay close attention to the weather prior to venturing out on the water and to stay in close contact with the forecast while out. A keen eye to the sky may prevent a potentially life threatening and avoidable encounter with foul weather.
Captain Tim Pickett