Weather Sayings and Their Meanings

"Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky in morning, sailors take warning."

January 23, 2020
Red Sky

Ever heard the saying, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight”? Long before meteorologists reported the weather, people made forecasts based on their observations of the sky, animals, and nature. Here are some weather sayings—and what they mean.

Many of the traditional sayings they used, called proverbs, are surprisingly accurate. Try out some old-fashioned forecasting—that still works today!

Weather Sayings and Meanings

“Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky in morning, sailors take warning.”

A reddish sunset means that the air is dusty and dry. Since weather in North American latitudes usually moves from west to east, a red sky at sunset means dry weather—good for sailing—is moving east. Conversely, a reddish sunrise means that dry air from the west has already passed over us on their way easy, clearing the way for a storm to move in.

“The higher the clouds, the finer the weather.”

If you spot wispy, thin clouds up where jet airplanes fly, expect a spell of pleasant weather.

Keep an eye, however, on the smaller puff clouds (cumulus), especially if it’s in the morning or early afternoon. If the rounded tops of these clouds, which have flat bases, grow higher than the one cloud’s width, then there’s a chance of a thunderstorm forming.

“Clear Moon, frost soon.”

When the night sky is clear, Earth’s surface cools rapidly—there is no cloud cover to keep the heat in. If the night is clear enough to see the Moon and the temperature drops enough, frost will form. Expect a chilly morning!

“When clouds appear like towers, the Earth is refreshed by frequent showers.”

When you spy large, white clouds that look like cauliflower or castles in the sky, there is probably lots of dynamic weather going on inside. Innocent clouds look like billowy cotton, not towers. If the clouds start to swell and take on a gray tint, they’re probably turning into thunderstorms. Watch out!

“Rainbow in the morning gives you fair warning.”

A rainbow in the morning indicates that a shower is in your near future.

“Ring around the moon? Rain real soon.”

A ring around the moon usually indicates an advancing warm front, which means precipitation. Under those conditions, high, thin clouds get lower and thicker as they pass over the moon. Ice crystals are reflected by the moon’s light, causing a halo to appear.

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

If you find yourself toting an umbrella around for days “just in case,” rain will stick around for several hours when it finally comes. The gray overcast dominating the horizon means a large area is affected. Conversely, if you get caught in a surprise shower, it’s likely to be short-lived.

Observe the sky and see if these weather proverbs work for you. Do you know of any others? Tell us in the comments below!


The Old Farmer's Almanac for Kids, Volume 1


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Thunder in January

Thunder in January flood in June

Going to rain

If all the cow are laying down will bring rain to the town. The tighter the animals laying together the sooner the rains will come.

Fog and Rain

Fog climb the hill will send water down to the mill

Winter Fog

Winter Fog will freeze the hair on a dog

Whether it's weather

Whenever the wind gusts reach twenty mph or faster in Kingman, Arizona, three days later there are killer tornadoes in Tornado Alley showing in the evening news broadcasts. Also, out here you can literally see the great Thunderbird of Native American lore. The clouds look like a bird with a long neck, crested head, bowed beak, sweeping wings to the horizons, and the tail is the downpouring rainstorm. Farther east the bird's neck gets shorter giving it the famous 'Eagle' look.

Wind and Weather

A clear sky of fleckless blue means storms within a day or two.

Wind and Weather

When the wind is in the north
narry a man will then go forth.
When the wind is in the east
'tis good for neither man nor beast.
When the wind is in the south
it blows the bait in the fish's mouth.
But when the wind is in the west
that is when it's the very best.

Rain when the sun is out

A Missouri saying and heard a stranger confirm it from Georgia : when it rains even though the sun is out we say “the devil is beating his wife”. Odd, yes.


When bones and bunions begin to ache, expect the clouds to fill the lake.

weather folklore

My mother always said "When the ground gets wet, it will rain" Think about that!


How about Sun Dogs?


This isn't a saying, but now I know what my MawMaw and PawPaw Burnett meant when they said 'It's gonna rain, I can feel it in my bones" (even on a sunny warm day). That night or the next day, IT RAINED. I can feel it "In MY Bones" too now with arthritis (or Rheumatism as some had called it). When the Low Fronts and High Fronts start moving and the Barometer starts to change either going up or down, it makes me hurt so bad that I'm thinking of moving to where it's warm and little rain. California sounds good now, minus the earthquakes.

Weather Sayings

From my Dad: It always rains after a long dry spell. If it doesn't rain within three days of Wednesday, it won't rain that week. Evening red and morning gray, send a sailor on his way- evening gray and morning red bring the rain upon his head.

Wind and Weather

My mom, a Vermonter, had two sayings that always proved true:

A clear sky of fleckless blue breeds storms within a day or two.

When the wind is in the north nary a man will then go forth.
When the wind is in the south it blows the bait in the fishes mouth.
When the wind is in the east 'tis good for neither man nor beast.
But when the wind is in the west, THAT is when it's the very best.

mackerel skh, maxkerel sky,

mackerel skh, maxkerel sky,
Never too wet, never too dry.

Oar fish on the surface, or beached means an imminent seabed quake with all that that entails.

Supposedly lots of berries on the trees means a harsh winter coming, and vice versa , but it doesn't seem to noticably work out that way. At least not in Southern U.K.


when you have your first snow and can see rabbit track check the calendar and what every day it is that is how many traces of snow that winter. a lady in Kentucky told me this and she was right.

weather signs

When the leaves on the trees turn backwards rain comes soon afterwards.

Big snow = little snow.

Big snow = little snow. Little snow = big snow. The size of the snowflakes coming down determines how much of a storm it is.

clouds and weather

My Mother always says long straight white clouds is a sign that in the next couple days we will have strong winds.

Stormy weather

I read this in a book: "Mackerel skies and mares' tails make tall ships wear short sails." It's absolutely true. Two nights ago, we had a mackerel sky that went from one horizon to the other. Yesterday and today, we've had 24-28 mph winds. There are wind and small craft advisories going. Handling a sailing ship in this weather would be dicey going if you didn't reef your sails. It's not so fun for driving either.

When flowers bloom twice, there will be a hard winter

Is this true? And if so, what does it mean? I'm currently doing a project for Journalism class, and I decided to do Fall Folk Lore. One of my partners mentioned this, saying his family has said it before, and it seemed like a decent idea. Problem is, I couldn't find it anywhere. Have you ever heard of it?

Weather proverbs

The Editors's picture

We can not say that we are familiar with this proverb but you have to understand that there are thousands of them. They were created by folks who had few to no ways of predicting weather so they observed nature and drew conclusions.

You will see thousands of weather proverbs in a book titled Weather Lore by Richard Inwards. It is available on the web. Here is the 1898 edition. You can download it as a pdf, using the “Ebook-Free” red button at the left.


Here is another link to the same thing:

Listening to Bird & Insect Activity

So many times I've been outside working or fishing and notice that when all the insect buzzing and bird activity becomes quiet, I've got an hour or less to take cover because a storm is moving in. It's the "absence of noise" that's the indicator. The more abruptly that noise stops, the faster you better get somewhere safe because the storm is coming in fast and hard.
Just wondering if anyone else notices these types of things. The last time it happened, the birds suddenly took cover and got silent. I told my husband we'd better get in because it's going to be bad. 20 minutes later, the EF4 Fairdale, IL tornado was going through the area.

animals and weather

The Editors's picture

That is a fascinating topic! There are lots of weather folklore that connect animal behavior with changes in weather, based on observers’ experiences from long ago. Today, we know that certain animals, such as some birds, can detect changes in barometric pressure. (Lowering pressure may indicate an approaching storm.) Migrating birds take advantage of this talent to time their flights during better weather. Other birds may stock up on food before a storm, or sea birds may fly inland, or songbirds fly lower. Also, certain animals can hear sounds that are higher or lower pitched than humans can, potentially detecting thunder, wind, or falling rain, before we can.

Listening to bird and insect activity

When the crickets chirp in the evening and/or the fireflies blink, tomorrow will be a hot one. I understand that to the pioneers, sudden silence of birds and animals meant that the Indians were sneaking up and you'd better check the powder in your musket.

Take cover a storm is moveing in

Yes I have noticed this, but usually when its really close by which time I'm already on alert. Have also noticed that before a large front comes in animal activity goes up. Here's what I have used through expirence, I watch for wind blowing up, i.e. Leaves turning over (mild wind conditions) , where I head for cover is if I see such as a ribon or grass starting to lift I know its time to make a move.
If I'm on the water I can tell the same if the smallest tiny waves begin to become sharp & pointy. this can occur over hours but if I'm way out in blue water I will head in ealry & fish around sheltered islands. I've seen this even in blue skies but most often in foggy/cloudy conditions. Saved us lots

What's the lore on bag worms

What's the lore on bag worms

We don't know of any folklore

The Editors's picture

We don't know of any folklore to do with bagworms. (Interesting insects, though.) Here's more information about them:

"Storm cloud greenish grey,

"Storm cloud greenish grey, funnel on the way" dunno does this apply everywhere but it does here.. Also got that here, somebody else commented it too :Many rowan berries long winter. Sign for long or very cold winter also apple and/or elderberry blossoms in fall.. Talking about winter, can you tell night temperature from the way frost grows on windows ?.. I can, learned from my granny.. If you are interested how it works contact me ..(to much explanation for a comment)

Greetings from Northern Europe

The Way Frost Grows on the Windows

I would love to know how to tell night temperature from the way frost grows on windows, and am interested in any folklore, superstitions, etc... am trying to gather as much info as possible to create a compendium. I am fascinated by the subject.