"Red sky at night, sailor's delight".....
February 6, 2014 12:13 PM   Subscribe

So I've heard this little ditty all my life, perhaps especially because I was a Navy brat: Red sky at night, sailor's delight; Red sky at morning, sailors take warning" It's poetic and easy to remember, it rhymes..... but is it true?!? I mean, from a forecasting standpoint, is it a good, consistant predictor of coming weather? And if so, why: what is it about a red sky at sunset or sunrise that would make a difference?
posted by easily confused to Science & Nature (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Weather lore, according to the Library of Congress....
posted by Lynsey at 12:17 PM on February 6, 2014

In the UK the phrase is "Red sky at night, shepherd's delight."

If you are in a place like the UK where the weather systems primarily cone from the west, the phrase has a good dose of validity. The UK Met Office says:

A red sky appears when dust and small particles are trapped in the atmosphere by high pressure. This scatters blue light and leaving only red light to give the sky its notable appearance.

A red sky at sunset means high pressure is moving in from the west so therefore the next day will usually be dry and pleasant. "Red sky in the morning, shepherds warning" means a red sky appears due to the high pressure weather system having already moved east meaning the good weather has passed, most likely making way for a wet and windy low pressure system.

posted by philipy at 12:20 PM on February 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

Anecdotally at least, yes for me the rhyme works. I live a few blocks from the Atlantic Ocean (New Jersey.) "Red" mornings almost always seem to occur when there is already a pretty strong direct East to North East wind. Those winds kick up the biggest waves. "Red" evenings are accompanied by no wind or steady western winds. Winds out of the west flatten waves in the Atlantic.
posted by otto42 at 12:26 PM on February 6, 2014

Yes I think it's pretty accurate - especially the 'red sky at night part'. Good way of working out what you can plan to do the next day.
posted by stevedawg at 12:29 PM on February 6, 2014

So "sailors take warning" means a storm is coming tomorrow, while "sailor's delight" is a sunny day? Cool.

Glad to have this explained. I also never understood the weather light atop 200 Boylston Street in Boston when I lived there; too late now, though.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:35 PM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

The light on the berkely building?
Steady blue, clear view.
Flashing blue, clouds due.
Steady red, rain ahead.
Flashing red, snow instead.
posted by defcom1 at 12:42 PM on February 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

defcom1 has it - also, during baseball season, flashing red indicates the game has been postponed.
posted by jalexei at 12:44 PM on February 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

See also #1 best meteorologist JESUS CHRIST:

"The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven. He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed.
posted by tivalasvegas at 1:06 PM on February 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

A weather beacon on top of a building, like what defcom1 described, is completely independent of the "red sky at night" weather lore, which has to do with the position of a high pressure system relative to an observer as the UK Met Office describes. It is by no means a foolproof forecast but the folklore does exhibit some skill.
posted by plastic_animals at 1:12 PM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

For the record, in Italian the saying is "Rosso di sera, bel tempo si spera: rosso di mattina, la pioggia si avvicina" which translates to "red at night, hoping for good weather; red in the morning, rain incoming." I just think it's cool that it transcends languages. :)
posted by lydhre at 1:39 PM on February 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've spent my whole life in regions prone to wildfires. For me, red sky at night implies something near me has recently burst into flames, and the smoke is blowing out to sea.
posted by town of cats at 1:39 PM on February 6, 2014

I sail boats and while I know this saying I do not use it for forecasting.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 3:06 PM on February 6, 2014

My grandmother taught me a version in German that I've long forgotten now, but the meaning was the same.

I'm right at the Oregon/Washington border, about an hour east of Portland, and it's been a pretty reliable general rule during my lifetime.
posted by stormyteal at 10:52 PM on February 6, 2014

I always imagined this came from a Eurocentric / Atlantic Ocean view. In the summer, the wind currents with the worst weather often come from the east (e.g., Cape Verde systems). When the sun is rising through clouds it is red and it is in the east and the wind currents will bring those clouds to where you are. In the west, the wind currents with their clouds have passed.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:37 AM on February 7, 2014

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