Do these old-timey cloud sayings really predict the weather?

To find the facts behind common weather sayings, we went to Mr. Weather Lore himself: David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada. Even though we no longer need rhyming weather sayings to plan our days (Look, it’s a red sky in the morning! Better take warning), “there’s still a place for weather lore,” says Phillips. “Not only does it connect us to our ancestors, it makes us more observant of our surroundings.” 

“When clouds appear like rocks and towers, the earth’s refreshed with frequent showers”
Why? Those scary-looking formations—anvil-shaped at the top—are cumulonimbus, a.k.a. storm clouds. They appear stacked on top of each other and are associated with severe weather: lightning, thunder, tornadoes, and hail. Take cover. 

“When there’s enough blue sky to make a pair of Dutchman’s trousers it means fair weather is on the way”
Why? A broken sky will have more patches of blue (obviously), which could suggest the clouds are dissipating or moving out of the area. Except…how big is this Dutchman? Normal-sized man pants could fit in a pretty small patch of blue sky—and that wouldn’t tell you much about the coming weather. (“I’m not very familiar with this one,” David Phillips admits.) 

“The higher the clouds, the better the weather”
Why? When you see thin, wispy clouds, you’re likely in store for clear weather for the next 48 hours. Alternatively, “lower clouds are often associated with precipitation,” says Phillips; you could get rain in the next few hours. Quick, to the games cupboard! 

“Cold is the night when the stars shine bright”
Why? Look up: if the stars are twinkling, it means the sky is clear. “When stars appear dull or dim, that means there’s mist or thin clouds between you and the stars,” says Phillips. And clouds trap warmth escaping from the surface of the earth, then reflect it back. Therefore, the night feels warmer. With no cloud cover, this heat can escape into space. Brrr. 

“Mackerel sky, mackerel sky, never long wet, never long dry”
Why? A sky full of rows of rippling clouds that look like fish scales suggests that “there’s going to be a change in the weather,” says Phillips. Thanks, clouds. That’s helpful. For this saying to be of any use, you need to look at where the clouds are sitting in the sky. “Altocumulous (mid-level) clouds usually mean the weather is improving,” says Phillips. “Cirrocumulus (high-level) clouds mean the weather is okay now, but inclement weather could be on the way.” 

This story was originally published in the October 2021 issue of Cottage Life, as part of the package “Red sky at night, could be right.”

Check out these common cottage-country food myths

And these common wildlife myths

Featured Video