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Natural Weather Indicators and Folklore

Plants  Animals  Sun and Moon  Clouds  Monthly Predictions  By Way of Explanation
Gardening Quotations
Climate  Plant Hardiness Zones   Climate Change   Local Weather Forecast

In Britain the most common topic of conversation is the weather, so over the centuries much of the folklore has centred around the subject. Here are some popular sayings which have come about by watching the weather and how plants and animals can sometimes indicate what is to come.

  • Rain before seven, clear before eleven.
  • When bubbles are rising on the surface of coffee and they hold together, good weather is coming; if the bubbles break up, weather you don't need is coming.
  • Red sky at night, sailors delight, Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.
  • Evening red and morning gray, sends the traveler on his way. Evening gray, morning red, brings the rain down on his head.
  • A sunshiney shower, lasts half an hour.
  • Rainbow at night - shepherd's delight. Rainbow in the morning - shepherd's warning.
  • When ditches and ponds offend the nose, look for rain and stormy blows.
  • Aching joints foretell wet weather.
  • The daisy shuts it's eye before rain.
  • If you see toadstools in the morning, expect rain by evening.
  • When dew is on the grass, rain will never come to pass.
  • Chickweeds close their leaves before a rain.
  • Dandelion blossoms close before a storm.
  • If autumn leaves are slow to fall, prepare for a cold winter.
  • When the leaves of trees turn over, it foretells windy conditions and possible severe weather.
  • A large crop of acorns - a harsh winter is due.
  • Flowers smell best just before rain.
  • When the dogwood flowers, there shall be no more frosts
    Ash before the oak, the summer's all a soak. Oak before the ash, the summer's but a splash (ie. when they come into leaf).

  • Cats scratch a post before a wind, wash their faces before a rain, and sit with backs to the fire before snow.
  • When the rooster goes crowing to bed,
    he will rise with a watery head.
  • If spiders are many and spinning their webs. The spell will soon be very dry.
  • When spiders weave webs by Noon,
    fine weather is going to follow soon.
  • If wasps build their nests high, the winter will be long and harsh.
  • It will be a cold, snowy winter if squirrels gather huge stores of nuts.
  • When the birds are flying low,
    expect the rain and a blow
  • When geese cackle, it will rain.
  • If the sparrow makes a lot of noise, rain will follow.
  • Trout jump high,
    when a rain is nigh.
  • Frogs will call before the rain,
    but in the sun are quiet again.
  • Pigs gather leaves and straw before a storm.
  • Expect rain and maybe severe weather when dogs eat grass.
  • When birds roost close to the ground - rain or snow are due.
  • If a goat grazes with its head in the wind, expect a fine day; when he crops with tail to the wind, look out for rain during the day.
  • Seagull, seagull, sit on the sand. It's never fine weather when you're on the land.
  • Pied wagtails are said to be beckoning the rain as they walk around waging their tails.
  • A single magpie in spring, foul weather will bring
  • If swans arrive early for winter expect a severe one.
Sun and Moon
  • A reddish sun has water in his eye,
    before too long you won't be dry.
  • When the sun sets bright and clear,
    an easterly wind you need not fear.
  • Pale moon rains, red moon blows,
    white moon neither rains or blows.
  • Red sun at dusk or dawn indicates dry weather.
  • See a ring around the moon,
    a storm is sure to follow soon.
  • If cumulus clouds are smaller at sunset than at noon, expect fair weather.
  • If wooly fleeces spread the heavenly way,
    be sure no rain distrubs the summer day.
  • A round-topped cloud and flattened base,
    carries rainfall in its face.
  • When moutains and cliffs in the clouds appear,
    some sudden and violent showers are near.
  • Mare's tails and mackerel scales,
    make tall ships carry low sails.
  • Mackerel sky, mackerel sky,
    never long wet, never long dry.
Monthly Predictions


    "If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
    Winter will have another flight,
    If Candlemas Day be cloud and rain,
    Then winter will not come again."
    (Candlemas Day - 2nd February which is also Groundhog Day in the US)
    "If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the year."
    (If a hibernating animal emerges on this day and sees its shadow it will return to its slumbers, usually a hedgehog or the groundhog in the US)
    "When the cat lies in the sun in February, she will creep behind the stove in March."
    "Of all the months of the year, curse a fair February."
    "If it thunders in February, it will frost in April."
    "If February give much snow, a fine summer it doth foreshow."


    "A wet March makes a sad harvest."
    "March dry, good rye."
    "A dry March and a wet May, fill barns and bays with corn and hay."
    "If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb."
    "As it rains in March, so it rains in June."
    "March winds and April showers, bring forth May flowers."


    "April wet, good wheat."
    "A cold April brings us bread and wine."
    "April showers, bring forth May flowers"
    "If April blows its horn,
    It'll bring forth hay and corn."
    "Till April's dead, change not a thread."
    "If early April is foggy, rain in June will make lanes boggy."


    "Water in May brings bread through all the year."
    "Mist in May, heat in June
    Makes harvest come right soon
    "A wet May makes a big load of hay.
    A cold May is kindly and fills the barn finely."
    "Cast ne'er a clout till May be out." (This probably refers to hawthorn blossom which is also known as May)


    " A leak in June
    brings harvest soon."
    "A calm June puts the farmer in tune."
    "June damp and warm, does the farmer no harm."


    "St. Swithin's Day, if thou dost rain,
    For forty days it will remain;
    St. Swithin's Day, if thou be fair,
    For forty days 'twill rain nae mair." (St. Swithin's Day - 15th July)
    "If the first of July it be rainy weather,
    'Twill rain more or less for four weeks together."


    "If St. Bartholomew's be clear,
    A prosperous autumn comes that year." (St. Bartholomew's - 24th August)
    "If the first week be warm,
    then winter will be white and long."
    "Dry August and warm doth harvest no harm."


    If Michaelmas brings many acorns,
    Christmas will cover the fields with snow." (Michaelmas Day 29th September)
    "A dark Michaelmas, a light Christmas."


    "If ducks do slide at Hallowtide,
    At Christmas they will swim;
    If ducks do swim at Hallowtide,
    At Christmas they will slide."
    "Rain in October, gives wind in December."
    "If the October moon comes without frost,
    Expect no frost until the moon of November."
    "When berries are many in October, beware a hard winter."
    "When birds and badgers are fat in October, expect a hard winter."
    "If the October moon comes without frost, expect no frost till the moon of November."


    "A cold November, a warm Christmas."
    "Wind in the North-west on St. Martin's Day (11th)
    There's a severe winter on the way."
    "Wind in the South-west on St. Martin's Day
    There it will remain till February, and a mild winter will be had."
    "A warm November is a sign of a bad winter to come."
    "Ice before Martinmas, enough to bear a duck.
    The rest of winter, is sure to be but muck."


    "If sun shines through the apple trees upon a Christmas Day,
    When autumn comes they will a load of fruit display."
    "If New Year's Eve night-wind blows south,
    It betokeneth warmth and growth;
    If west, much milk, and fish in the sea;
    If north, cold and storms there will be;
    If east, the trees will bear much fruit;
    If north-east, flee it, man and brute!"
    "Snow on Christmas means Easter will be green."
    "If Christmas day be bright and clear,
    There'll be two winters in the year."
    "A clear, star-filled sky on Christmas Eve will bring good crops in the summer."

By way of explanation

As most of these sayings have been around for hundreds of years they are based on observation and recollection, so it's not surprising that they can be explained using more recent scientific discoveries of how the world works.

  • A clear starlit night - weather is changing due to clear dry air preceding high pressure.
  • A ring around the moon is caused by the high altitude cirrus clouds which precede low pressure systems bearing moisture. The clouds contain ice crystals which refract the light to give the halo effect.
  • If the moon appears red then rain is due. Dust pushed ahead of the low pressue which brings rain, distorts the light giving the red colour.
  • A rainbow or white band around the sun (Sun Dog) indicates that a drastic change in the weather is due within 12-24 hours. If the weather is clear, plan on stormy weather; if the weather is poor, plan on fair weather ahead. A rainbow is also an obvious indicator of rain as it refracts the light and breaks it down into colours. As most weather systems travel in a west to east direction, rainbows in the morning to the west indicate approaching rain, while a rainbow at sunset indicates that the rain is leaving and fair weather is on the way.
  • Weather systems tend take about four hours to pass over so if it is raining early in the morning it should have cleared by eleven, or if later, by the afternoon.
  • The Jet Stream tends to settle to a constant pattern in mid July which remains for about six weeks, so the St. Swithin's Day prediction may well ring true.
  • A red sky at dusk or dawn is due to the sun shining through dust particles being pushed ahead of a high pressure system bringing in dry air. A red sky in the morning is also due to the sun shining through dust, but in this case the dust is being pushed by an approaching low pressure system bringing in moisture. This was referred to in the Bible (Matthew 16:2-3 "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 today: for the sky is red and lowering").
  • Foul smells in a marshy area indicate rain as the reduced pressure allows gases to be released. Similarly aching joints before wet weather - the decreasing atmospheric pressure allowing the gas in our bodies to expand and causing pain. Low pressure also allows the bubbles to burst on the top of coffee.
  • Birds and bats have a tendency to fly much lower to the ground just before a rain storm due to the "thinning" of the air by low pressure. They prefer to fly where the air is the most dense and they can get greater lift with their wings. In dull moist weather there will be more insects near to or on the ground so swallows will swoop lower to catch them and ground feeders like wagtails will be picking up grubs.
    Smoke rising straight into the air means fair weather and smoke hanging low means rain is on the way. When high pressure approaches, smoke will rise whereas with low pressure it can't rise and tends to lay low.
  • Sound becomes sharper before wet weather - instead of traveling upward and outward into the atmosphere sound waves are bent back to the earth and their range extended. This is similar to the smoke falling.
  • "Mare's tails and mackerel scales make tall ships carry low sails." Mare's tails are cirrus clouds, they are found high in the atmosphere and are pulled into long streamers resembling the tail of a horse.The mackerel scales are altocumulus clouds which look like upsidedown wavey water or the scales on a fish. If a sailor noticed these, he knew that within 12 to 36 hours, the weather would be too rough to be out on the open water.

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