“Red in the morning, Shepherd’s warning; Red in the night, Shepherd’s delight.”
This saying has been a part of weather folklore for centuries. It holds the promise of predicting the weather based on the colours of the sky during specific times of the day. Growing up, I always knew of this saying, and I often overhear the guests behind me in the vehicle repeating the saying, or the maritime version similar to the “Sailor’s warning”. But where does this adage originate from, and is there any truth to its predictive powers? Let’s delve into the fascinating history and science behind this age-old saying.
Ancient Origins of the Saying
The roots of this saying can be traced back to ancient shepherding communities that relied heavily on weather patterns to protect their flocks. Observing the sky was one of the most accessible methods for predicting weather changes before modern meteorological tools existed. As a result, people began noticing patterns between the colours of the sky and impending weather conditions.
“Red in the Morning, Shepherd’s Warning”
When the morning sky appears red, it is often a sign that weather conditions may worsen throughout the day. This phenomenon can be attributed to the presence of dust and other particles in the lower atmosphere. During sunrise, the sun is low on the horizon, and its light has to pass through a thicker layer of the atmosphere, which scatters the blue and green wavelengths. The remaining colours, particularly red and orange, become more prominent, giving the sky its fiery hue.
The scattering of shorter wavelengths by particles and dust is an indicator of the presence of a weather system. Such weather systems are often associated with approaching fronts and disturbances, heralding potential rain or storms. So, when shepherds saw a red morning sky, they knew to brace themselves for possible adverse weather conditions later in the day.
“Red in the Night, Shepherd’s Delight”
Conversely, a red or vibrant sunset implies a clear, unobstructed atmosphere. During sunset, the sun is again low on the horizon, but this time, its light passes through less atmosphere, resulting in less scattering of shorter wavelengths. The unfiltered light accentuates the warm hues, creating a picturesque red sky.
A red sky at night generally indicates that the weather will be calm and stable. High pressure often dominates during such conditions, and the likelihood of clear skies and fair weather is increased. For shepherds, this meant a peaceful night ahead and a chance to rest easy without worrying about any impending weather challenges.
High vs Low Weather Systems
Is There Truth to the Saying?
While the saying has been passed down through generations and many people swear by its accuracy, it is important to acknowledge that weather prediction is an intricate science. The colours of the sky can provide valuable information about atmospheric conditions, but they are not foolproof indicators of specific weather events.
Meteorology has made tremendous advancements in the past century, enabling us to use sophisticated instruments to analyze and predict weather patterns accurately. While ancient weather lore like the shepherd’s saying can be entertaining and sometimes useful, it should not be solely relied upon for critical decisions.
So, the next time you witness a stunning red sky at dawn or dusk, take a moment to appreciate the artistry of nature and the wisdom passed down through generations. While you might not need to tend to a flock, these vibrant colours remind us of the harmony between the natural world and human experience, connecting us to our ancestors and the ever-changing beauty of the skies above.