So, let’s examine a few of the more common “sayings” and why they may, or may not, be true.
“Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky in morning is sailors due warning.”
There are many versions of this saying, but this is how I heard it growing up. This saying relies on the way weather behaves and the sunrise/sunset in the northern hemisphere. North of the equator weather systems typically move in a west to east fashion. If the system is “moving in” it will be west of your location, thusly spreading clouds in. When the sun rises from the east it gives the sky a red/orange glow. The opposite is true when a storm departs, the clouds are east of your area. With the sun going down in the west, the sunset takes on that red/orange glow, hence “Red sky at night, sailors delight.”
“You can tell the temperature by how many times a cricket chirps”
This one I was very skeptical of, but upon trying, it gets close (within 2-5°). The method is, count a cricket’s chirps for 14 seconds, add 40, and that will be the temperature in Fahrenheit. This works because crickets chirp quicker when it’s warmer out.
“When leaves turn their back ‘tis a sign it’s going to rain.”
The reasoning behind this is leaves will turn their back or turn upside down in humid, windy conditions. The humidity softens the stems and leaves and the wind flips them around. These are the same conditions that generally occur ahead of a frontal boundary which could allow thunderstorms to develop. While it doesn’t mean it will rain in your back yard, at least a chance of rain is possible.
“If a thunderstorm has a green shade a tornado is on its way.”
This is one of the biggest myths in weather lore. The green/blue-yellow appearance of a thunderstorm is caused by sunlight refracting off hail within the thunderstorm itself. However, it usually takes a powerful thunderstorm to generate enough hail or large enough hail to cause refraction to happen. With these kinds of powerful storms tornadoes can occur, but the coloration is not the sole indicator of a tornado itself.
“If the ground hog sees his shadow and returns to his hole there will be six more weeks of winter-like weather. If he doesn’t see his shadow, he predicts an early Spring.”
Punxsutawney Phil is undoubtedly the most famous ground hog in America. People await every Groundhog Day to see what his forecast will be. While many get excited to see what he will forecast, according to a recent study, Punxsutawney Phil is only right about 39 percent of the time.
“When the icy wind warms, expect snowstorms.”
While this is not true every time, there is some merit to the saying. When cold wind turns warm it can be indicative of a shift from a cold air mass north/northeast of a low-pressure system to a warm air mass east/southeast of the low-pressure system. This is especially true if the warming occurs rapidly. As many of you know, our biggest snows are associated with the kind of strong low-pressure systems that can rapidly change temperatures from cold, to warm, then back to cold in less than a day.
Joseph Cooper is a meteorologist and co-owner of Thermodynamic Solutions. Joseph and his partner, Beth Carpenter, are frequent Snow Magazine contributors.