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What is Weather Lore?

By N. Phipps
Updated May 21, 2024
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Weather lore began as a means of predicting weather long before advanced technological methods were available. People often relied on nature for upcoming weather events. Weather deals with atmospheric conditions during a particular time and place; whereas lore is a set of traditional beliefs, like folklore, that is passed down from one generation to the other. Weather lore combines environmental changes with old tales or sayings. While it is true that many of these tales may not have scientific basis, a number of them can and do accurately predict weather.

“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning.” This popular weather lore saying involves reading the sky for clues to weather predictions. Seaman often read the skies, including the stars, for predicting safe passage across seas. “When the stars begin to huddle, the earth will soon become a puddle.” Sky patterns can include anything from studying sky colors and astrological signs to cloud formations and wind movement.

Clouds are formed by moisture; therefore, numerous clouds, especially those that tower high in the sky, are usually indicative of rain. “When clouds appear like rocks and towers, the earth will be washed by frequent showers.” Winds can signal weather conditions as with this weather lore saying, “When the wind is blowing from the east, ‘tis not fit for man nor beast.” Easterly winds are said to represent poor conditions when accompanied by low pressure. West winds, however, often bring about pleasant weather.

In addition to studying sky patterns, weather lore draws upon the unusual behavior of both plants and animals. Numerous plants, for instance, are able to gauge temperatures, opening and closing their foliage as the temperatures rise and fall. High humidity and winds can signal approaching rain. In response, many trees will curl up their leaves. “When leaves show their undersides, be very sure that rain betides.” Flowers may also fold up their petals prior to rain to protect pollen from washing away.

Animals are extremely sensitive to changes in the environment, spawning unusual behavior. For example, impending earthquakes stir up significant odd behavior in animals, as they feel vibrations long before people do. This may cause certain species to huddle together or become more vocal. “Look for rain when the crow flies low.” This adage refers to the onset of rain, which is indicated by a fall in barometric pressure that causes birds to fly lower to the ground. Insects may become more active too.

Drops in barometric pressure not only affect animals. Many people can also feel the onset of changing weather. “Joints ache, rainy weather at stake.” This weather lore saying emphasizes the fact that when air pressure drops, it can affect the joints. As a result, joints may become achy and painful, especially in those suffering from conditions like arthritis.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is weather lore?

Weather lore is a body of traditional knowledge, often passed down through generations, which includes observations and sayings about the weather. These pieces of lore are based on patterns and natural phenomena, allowing people to predict the weather before modern meteorological tools were available. For instance, a red sky at night suggests fair weather, a belief supported by the high-pressure systems that often bring clear skies.

How accurate is weather lore compared to modern forecasting?

While weather lore can sometimes be surprisingly accurate due to its basis in long-term observations, it does not match the precision of modern forecasting. Scientific meteorology uses advanced technology and data modeling to predict weather with a high degree of accuracy. However, some weather lore has been validated by science; for example, cows lying down might indicate imminent rain, possibly because they're responding to changes in atmospheric pressure.

Can animals really predict the weather?

Animals are often more attuned to environmental changes than humans, and their behaviors can sometimes indicate upcoming weather changes. For example, birds flying low are believed to signal bad weather, which could be due to their sensitivity to air pressure changes. Scientific studies have shown that some animals can detect impending natural disasters, such as earthquakes, likely due to their ability to sense subtle environmental cues.

What are some common weather lore sayings and their meanings?

Common weather lore sayings include "Red sky at night, sailor's delight; red sky in morning, sailor's warning," which suggests that a red sky at sunset foretells good weather, while a red sky at sunrise may indicate stormy weather ahead. Another is "Ring around the moon? Rain real soon," which implies that a halo around the moon is a predictor of rain, often accurate due to the ice crystals in high cirrostratus clouds that precede a warm front with rain.

Is there any scientific basis for weather lore?

Some weather lore has a scientific basis, as it is grounded in empirical observations of the environment. For example, the saying "When leaves show their undersides, be very sure that rain betides" is likely based on the reaction of some tree leaves to increased humidity or changes in air pressure, which can precede rain. Science has often found explanations for why certain lore holds true under specific conditions.

How has weather lore impacted human history and culture?

Weather lore has significantly impacted agriculture, navigation, and daily life throughout human history. Before the advent of modern meteorology, people relied on these observations to make crucial decisions about planting, harvesting, and sailing. Weather lore is deeply embedded in many cultures, reflecting a time when humans were more directly connected to the natural world and its rhythms, and it remains a fascinating aspect of cultural heritage.

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Discussion Comments

By anon353655 — On Nov 01, 2013

Thank you. This really helped me with my Grade 10 Geo project.

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