For five generations, the Lee family has observed the weather patterns that cross their lake in Northeastern Ontario. Bill and Cathy Lee, now semi-retired, live full time at the family cottage and pass on the lore of their grandparents to their grandchildren. Long before Doppler radar and weather apps, this old-timey wisdom was born of observational science, critical to pioneer survival and cottager comfort. Their eight most reliable weather proverbs:
Red sky at night, sailors’ delight;
Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.
One of the most age-old weather sayings is especially accurate in Canada, where weather patterns generally move from west to east. But its interpretation is a bit complex, stemming first from the premise that when the sun is low, clouds or water droplets catching the sun’s rays may be refracted, creating a red glow. So, when the sun is low in the West (setting in the evening) and moisture is in the East, the sky overhead may turn red, suggesting that wet weather has already passed by and clear weather is following along from the West.
If the sun is rising (always in the East, in Canada), and its rays are rubricating overhead clouds in the West, those clouds will likely be heading your way.
All of this presupposes that the sky is relatively clear near the sun, otherwise the sky would simply be grey, and this proverb would be moot.
Ring around the moon,
Rain real soon.
This is also a case of observing the moisture content in the air, and how it is illuminated by a light source; in this case, the moon. Thin and icy cloud cover—a harbinger of cold, wet weather—refracts moonlight, creating a halo.
A romantic addendum to this proverb recommends counting the stars within the ring to predict the number of days until the wet weather arrives. If the ring is tight to the moon, thus no stars are visible, the moisture is thick and so one may predict that a storm is nigh. If the ring is so wide that stars can be seen within its circumference, the moisture may still be building (though it could just as likely be dissipating).
If dogs and horses sniff the air,
A summer shower will soon be there.
Animals are known to have superior olfactory abilities to ours, but this saying also has a human version: “When ditches and ponds offend the nose/Look for rains and stormy blows.” The science behind both is the same: when rain is approaching, humidity in the air increases, and scent molecules (which travel solo in dry weather) attach themselves to larger moisture molecules. This means they adhere more readily to the sensitive noses of animals, and later heighten their pungency for humans.
No weather is ill
If the wind is still.
It’s no surprise that a plethora of proverbs summon the wind as a predictor of weather. To wit: “The devil is busy in a high wind.” Even the most indoorsy urbanite has observed that a big change in the wind generally means a change in the weather, for better or for worse. Seasoned cottagers know that a strong wind can blow away humidity as easily as it can usher in a storm. Conversely, whether misty or sunny, a still day doesn’t change much from morning through night. The science behind this proverb is thus fairly simple: no wind, no weather.
Thunderstorm in the fall,
No winter at all.
This saying is a slightly more poetic variation of the one the Lees use: “Put your winter tires on six weeks after the last thunderstorm of the year.” How do you know which storm is the last one? By faithfully marking down thunderstorms in the fall, and counting out the weeks that follow. If you’ve gone six weeks, you can presume that the temperature will have dropped enough for you to expect snow next, rather than rain. However if, like the proverb suggests, you are still counting thunderstorms late into the fall, and you live in a region with an early spring (lucky West-coasters!), you may not get much winter weather at all that year.
When the sun draws water,
Rain will follow.
This saying really only rhymes when recited with a gruff, old-timey Canadian accent: “When the sun draws water/rain will foller.” You’ll likely have noticed this dramatic phenomenon, often when driving into a cloudy area, wherein the rays of the sun seems to slice through the clouds forming angelic, glowing pillars.
Dew on the grass,
No rain will pass.
The science behind this proverb is determined by a clear night after a warm day, when the ground still radiates heat hours after the grass has cooled, creating condensation. A more cynical interpretation might wonder if dew could ever be noticed on a dreary day. After all, surely “There’s no dew felt on the ground/ When the rain comes down!”
Wind from the North, wise fishers don’t go forth;
Wind from the South, blows the hook in fish’s mouth;
Wind from the East, fish bite least;
Wind from the West, fish bite best.
Again, this angler’s anthem is fairly accurate in Canada—weather systems move from west to east—plus storms tend to blow counterclockwise, and winds from the North often carry chilly Arctic air. But that gentle southwest wind may just as easily blow in a storm, so don’t plan your fishing holiday entirely around this proverb.
A more reliable and pithy variation, for those who do not fish, is: “When the wind is in the East/‘Tis no good for man nor beast.” This saying distills the various wind directions to the one that matters most: wind coming out of the East generally means a day indoors at the cottage, playing Monopoly.