For centuries, shepherds and sailors - people whose lives and livelihoods depended on the weather - relied on lore to foretell tomorrow's weather. They showed a keen sense of observation and quickly connected changes in nature with rhythms or patterns of weather.

Farmers watched cloud movement and the sky colour to know when to sow and reap. Mariners noted wind shifts and watched wave motions for signs of change. Hunters studied the behaviour of insects and animals and, through repeated observation, learned to foretell the weather. They recalled what they saw in the form of short sayings, often embodied in rhyme for ease of memory. The beliefs of thousands of people were passed down from generation to generation, altered by the wisdom of the times. They became part of culture and education and came to the New World and to different climates with the waves of migration.

Many weather proverbs are nothing more than familiar rhymes, lighthearted ditties or imaginative contradictions. Some have survived the test of careful observation and scientific reasoning to become reliable guides to coming weather change. Only those sayings that prophesy daily change, usually pertaining to sky appearance, cloud movement or wind change, have any hope of success. Lore involving key dates or anniversaries or suggesting monthly or seasonal change can only be right by chance.

Old weather proverbs and saws have their inception in atmospheric conditions. Properly interpreted, these conditions give accurate information on what is likely to happen in the next few hours. For instance, a red sky means rain or dry weather according to the time of the day it occurs. The principle is based on certain optics and conditions of the atmosphere. Another example: smoke hovering near the surface of the ground indicates heavy moisture in the air. When it ascends straight up there is little likelihood of rain.

Among the more reliable weather proverbs are:

The moon and the weather may change together,
But a change of the moon, will not change the weather.

A ring around the sun or moon, means rain or snow coming soon.

When grass is dry at morning light
Look for rain before the night.

Dew on the grass, rain won't come to pass.

Sea gull, sea gull, sit on the sand,
It's never good weather while you're on the land.

When sea-gulls fly to land, a storm is at hand.

Rain before seven, fine before eleven.
Evening red and morning grey, two sure signs of one fine day.

The sudden storm lasts not three hours
The sharper the blast, the sooner 'tis past.

The higher the clouds the better the weather.

Cold is the night when the stars shine bright.

Sound travelling far and wide, a stormy day betide.

When the forest murmurs and the mountain roars,
Then close your windows and shut your doors.

When leaves show their undersides, be very sure that rain betides.

Chimney smoke descends, our nice weather ends.

When the night goes to bed with a fever, it will awake with a wet head.

When stars shine clear and bright,
We will have a very cold night.

When the ditch and pond offend the nose,
Then look out for rain and stormy blows.

Three days rain will empty any sky.

The farther the sight, the nearer the rain.

Rain long foretold, long last,
Short notice, soon will pass.

The sharper the blast, the sooner 'tis past.

If bees stay at home, rain will soon come,
If they flay away, fine will be the day.

The first and last frosts are the worst.

When clouds look like black smoke a wise man will put on his cloak.

A rainbow afternoon,
Good weather coming soon.

A rainbow in the morning, is the shepherd's warning
A rainbow at night is the shepherd's delight.

When the chairs squeak, it's of rain they speak.

Catchy drawer and sticky door,
Coming rain will pour and pour.

The winds of the daytime wrestle and fight,
Longer and stronger than those of the night.

Dust rising in dry weather is a sign of approaching change.

Sun sets Friday clear as bell,
Rain on Monday sure as hell.

No weather's ill if the wind be still.

The squeak of the snow will the temperature show.

When smoke hovers close to the ground, there will be a weather change.

When down the chimney falls the soot
Mud will soon be underfoot.

When the sun shines while raining,
it will rain the same time again tomorrow.

When the wind blows from the west, fish bite best.
When it blows from the east, fish bite least.

If salt is sticky,
And gains in weight;
It will rain
Before too late.

Red sky at night, sailor's delight;
Red sky in morning, sailor take warning.

When clouds appear like rocks and towers,
The Earth's refreshed by frequent showers.

When the wind is in the east, 'tis neither good for man nor beast.

The more cloud types present, the greater the chance of rain or snow.

* When a cow tries to scratch its ear ... It means a shower is very near. 


Compiled by:

David Phillips
Senior Climatologist
Environment Canada
August, 1997

* CMOS Bulletin, April 2003