Weather Folklore: The Shepherd's Barometer

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A lone tree in frost at sunrise
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Weather Observations and Age-Old Wisdom

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Here are a few ways to judge the weather, grounded on 50 years’ experience and observations by an English shepherd in 1812.

Old-Fashioned Weather Wiseness

“If the sun rises red and fiery, it betokens more or less wind or rain.”

This observation agrees with the old English rule: If red the sun begins his race, be sure that rain will fall apace.

“If cloudy at sunrising, and it so decreases, it is a certain sign of fair weather.”

Agreeable to this is an observation of Pliny’s, in his Natural History, in which says: If at sunrising the clouds are driven away and retire as it were to the west, it denotes fair weather.

And even more weather observations and folklore…

  • “Little round clouds like a dapple grey, and at the same time a north wind blows, denote fair weather for a few days.”
  • “If the sun be surrounded with an iris, or circle of white clouds, and they equally fly away, ‘tis a sign of fair weather.”
  • “In the decay of the moon, a cloudy morning bodes a fair afternoon.”
  • “If the weather be hazy, and the wind falls away, and small clouds increase, depend on much rain, and that soon.”
  • “When mists rise in low ground and soon vanish, nothing is a surer sign of fair weather; when they are heavy, rise slowly, and keep visible on the hilltops, they soon fall down in rain, which, however, seldom lasts long.”
  • “A mist in the morning, before sunrising, and at or about the full of the moon, betides fair weather; if mists appear in the new moon, you may depend on more or less rain in the old; and when they arise in the old, there is generally rain in the new.”
  • “If the wind shifts from the north to the south in a few days without rain and turns north again with rain, returns to the south in one or two days, and so on for two or three keeps shifting, it will afterwards fix south or west two months or more.”
  • “In summer, or autumn, when the wind has been in the south two or three days, and the weather very hot, and the clouds rise one above another with white tops, like battlements of a tower, and joined together, and black on the hills, depend on thunder and rain very speedily.”
  • “You may sometimes see two clouds, one to the left, another to the right, which denote a sudden shower.”
  • “When clouds float in a serene sky, you may expect winds, and if they rise from the south, depend on rain; if you see them driving at sunset, come from what quarter they will, depend on a tempest approaching. Clouds that have a dusky hue and move slowly are laden with hail; if they have a blue cast, with large hail; if yellow, small.”
  • “The faster it rains, the sooner it will be over, and sudden rains never last long. But when the air grows thick, and the sun, moon, and stars shine dim, then it is likely to rain six hours successively.”
  • “When it rains an hour or two before sunrising, it generally clears before noon and continues so the whole day; if the rain sets in an hour or two after sunrising, it generally rains all day, unless the rainbow appears a little before the rain begins, and then it seldom lasts long.”
  • “When October and November are warm and rainy, January and February are frosty and cold; but if October and November be snow and frost, then January and February are open and mild.”

Do any of these observations ring true to you? Do you have weather observations of your own? We welcome your comments below. 

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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