Monday, December 6, 2010

Tools Of The Trade: Judging By The Sky

Growing up, we lived all over the country. If we’d been in one place for two or three years, you just knew any day now Dad would be home with the “Honey, we’re moving” speech. We had the good fortune, though, to usually live by a large body of water: the Pacific Ocean, the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico. So I remember watching the sky for clues to the weather because Dad drilled the old rhyme into us kids: “Red sky at night, sailor delight; red sky in the morning, sailor take warning.” My friends were always surprised that I knew ahead of time when we weren’t going to have to dress out for gym.

But red is not the only color with which the sky prognosticates the weather. For centuries, sailors have looked up and judged – often correctly – what was coming by the hints in the sky. Here is a list, by no means complete, of some of the possibilities from the great age of sail:

Bright yellow sky at sunset: wind
Dark, gloomy blue sky: high winds
Dark gray, oily looking clouds: wind
Dark red clouds: rain
Delicate, cotton candy clouds: good weather with light to moderate breezes
Gray sky in the morning: excellent sailing weather
Lavender-gray clouds: snow
Light, bright blue sky: fine weather
Orange or copper sky at sunset: storms with rain
Pale yellow sky at sunset: wet and humid
Red sky in the morning: bad weather
Rosy sky at sunset: good weather
Sickly green: wind, rain, possible hurricane or typhoon
Tawny or coppery clouds: wind
The softer the appearance of the clouds: chance of being becalmed
The harder the appearance of the clouds: stiff winds and fine sailing

Check the sky where you are today, mates. Let me know how the old seafaring wisdom stacked up in your area.

Header: Good weather with light to moderate breezes in Isle de la Tortue


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! I had no idea there were so many of these. I'll have to check and compare them to what it looks like outside tomorrow. Interesting...

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! If you live near a large body of water, I can say with some confidence these will work. Being so close to the Pacific and not really that far from the Bering Sea, all of these should work for us. I know lavender-gray does; the clouds were that color right before it snowed yesterday :)

Charles L. Wallace said...

Good info! Thank you, Pauline. I use a lot of modern instrumentation to discern the weather, but sure is good having "Seaman's Eye" handy :-)

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Charles! It is a little surprising how accurate these signs can be if you're anywhere near the ocean or sea. For instance, we've got some pretty gray clouds overhead right but there's no hint of lavender in them. Add that to the fact that it's only 15 degrees and I'll say with some certainty we won't see snow today.