“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.”
That old saying tells us that when the evening sky turns red, the next day’s weather will be calm and pleasant. It works often, but not always. It works if you are in a weather pattern where things are moving from west to east. After a large storm passes, high pressure arrives to bring in drier air. That clears the sky. The sure way to find red- or orange-tinted clouds at sunset is for the sky to the west to be clear; otherwise, clouds would block the sunlight. I used that science to capture the spectacular sunset over Brookley Field years ago.
“Red sky at night …” doesn’t work as well here in the summer when we have steering winds out of the southeast or when our weather pattern is stagnant. On the other hand, there are many times we do get a red sky at sunset when it’s just a break in the clouds to the west, not an entire change of weather. Smoke and ash from wildfires also tint the sky red.
“A ring around the sun or moon portends rain within 48 hours.”
The ring in that old saying is a halo. It tells you cirrus clouds are high overhead. Cirrus clouds often precede a warm front in the middle portions of the U.S. Now that many locations like the central Gulf Coast are under major aircraft corridors, we have more cirrus clouds than ever, as a byproduct of aircraft vapor trails. Around here, that old saying doesn’t say much! Haloes are common at any time.
There’s weather folklore about the actions of animals, but animals respond to change rather than predict change. Some creatures are more sensitive than we are to pressure, humidity and even the electric field around a growing thunderstorm, so they may sense something before we do.
Does a lot of sealife showing up at the beach mean something will form in the Gulf? Not as a rule. It’s more likely the creatures found a good source of food or the Gulf currents simply moved them.
Does a big pecan crop mean the next season will be wet, dry or stormy? Take your pick of the nuts or the supposed outcome. Crops grow based on past and current weather, not future weather.
There are weather misperceptions. When I was a kid, during the NASA Apollo missions, I remember my mother saying, “Whenever the rockets go up, it rains.” That was a coincidence. A perception like that is based on people stopping to focus on what is going on around them during a big event.
We remember the weather from big happenings in our lives and communities, but just because an unusual or extreme pattern led up to or followed something memorable, it doesn’t mean that event caused the weather or vice versa!
Alan Sealls is chief meteorologist at NBC15 and an adjunct meteorology professor at the University of South Alabama.
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