Old Weather Sayings and Proverbs

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Thursday, May 22, 1913:  Went to Watsontown this afternoon. It was rather muddy, and my shoes were a sight.


Did the red sky predict rain–which led to the mud Grandma encountered? Source: Wikimedia Commons

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

It must have recently rained. A hundred years ago, you couldn’t instantly get good weather information via the internet or television—but accurately predicting the weather was important for farm families.

Did Grandma use old weather proverbs and sayings to forecast the weather?

Here’s what a 1913 article in her local newspaper had to say about weather proverbs:


Ancient Sayings Based on Experience Are Approved by Uncle Sam’s Scientific Investigators

The idea that old weather proverbs and traditional natural signs are of no value in these days of scientific weather forecasting is not sustained by such an eminent authority as W.J. Humphreys, professor of meteorological physics in the United States Bureau.

He gives credit to the weather prescience of farmers, fishermen, woodsmen and others who make a practice of depending on natural signs to give them knowledge of impending weather changes.

Quoting the jingle about a sailor’s warning and a sailor’s delight, Professor Humphreys says:

“If the evening sky, not far up but near the western horizon, is yellow, greenish, or some other sort wave-length color, then all the greater the chance for clear weather, for these colors indicate ever less condensation and therefore drier air than does red.”

Professor Humphreys says a good word for such old-time proverbs as:

Frost year, fruit year

Year of snow, fruit will grow

A year of snow, a year of plenty

“That these and similar statements commonly are true,” he writes, “is evident from the fact that a more or less continuous covering of snow, incident to a cold winter, not only delays the blossoming of fruit trees until after the probable season of killing frosts but also prevents that alternate thawing and freezing so ruinous in fruit. In short, as another proverb puts it, a late spring never deceives.

The appearance of the moon depends upon the conditions of the atmosphere. Clear moon, frost soon, and moonlit night has the heaviest frosts and others of this class are true enough he says, because on the clearest nights the cooling of the earth’s surface by radiation is greatest, and hence most likely to cause, through the low temperature reached, precipitation in the form of dew or frost.

Milton Evening Standard (June 21, 1913)

33 Responses

  1. I have a sunset in my post tonight also, but not as majestic as this one. The colors are so vivid.

    I really do like the old weather proverbs. Especially those that have a bit of science behind them :-)

    • The colors are vivid!—perhaps too vivid. I can’t decide whether or not I like this picture. Most sunset pictures that I found in Wikimedia Commons were taken over water–and I wanted one with land; but this picture doesn’t exactly look like sunsets that I’ve seen.

  2. Some very wise weather sayings there. I like the ‘late spring never deceives.’

  3. Yes, indeed, I’d bet money that Grandma and her family used the old weather proverbs. I remember my mom predicting the weather by using them. I think she was more accurate than our current forecasters with all their super duper triple doplar gadgets!!

  4. I always feel sorry for the modern weatherman or weather girl since they are so often wrong and everyone blames them for spoilt plans or events like somehow it’s there fault. With climate change, I think it will get even harder to forecast with any certainty the weather and people might have to re-learn these old tricks

  5. My folks used the “Old Farmers Almanac” for weather predictions to plant their gardens, etc.

  6. Very very interesting, although I thought neon lime green or chartreuse means tornado.

  7. I remember my Grandpa Burr kept a daily weather log. He was an outdoors man: a fisher and gardener. Wish I had that little book now!

    • I always think that I should keep records similar to the ones your grandfather kept–but somehow never seem to actually do it.

  8. I agree. Those who depended on the weather for their livlihood knew what to watch for.

    • The sure did. When I was a child growing up on a farm, weather was always a major topic of conversation at the dinner table. :)

  9. When I was ten years old, my grandfather, (a farmer and orchardist as well as a teacher) advised me to go into meteorology. He said it was the job of the future.

  10. I did notice when I lived in the north woods that we were more likely to get snow when it warmed up (relatively speaking) and clear weather when temps dropped. My favorite is “Red sky at night, sailors delight.” never was sure if sailors liked a good storm or if that referred to a red sunset.

    • I’ve noticed the same thing about snow and cold temperatures. When it’s really cold, we’re “above the weather”. :)

  11. I am definitely looking forward to a great fruit and vegetable season. After all, we’ve had a year of snow and a very late lasting spring.

  12. Like Kristin, I grew up hearing “red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, sailor’s warning.” This has proven accurate more times than not. And the photo was just gorgeous!

    • Sometimes I think that we lose something when people don’t know the old weather proverbs–and need to rely primarily on experts.

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