Red Sky In The Morning…

by Tammy Plotner on November 18, 2010

“Red sky in the morning… Sailors take warning!” How many of you have heard of that old phrase? Just look at this beautiful panorama of Cairns, Australia done by Joe Brimacombe – does it portend foul weather ahead or are such sayings a myth? Step inside and let’s find out…

In present time we recognize such beautiful clouds to be a reflection from the rising Sun, but in times past mankind relied on such fanciful wordsmithing to help them predict weather patterns crucial to farmers and sailors. Can the appearance of the sky and appearance of the clouds really foretell the atmospheric future? You just might be surprised…

Generally our weather moves in the opposite direction – west to east – from which our Earth turns. It’s carried along by the romantic westerly trade winds, meaning storm systems are more likely to arrive from the west. We know the brilliant and varied colors we see in the sky are caused by sunlight being refracted into almost all the colors of the spectrum as they pass through our atmosphere and bounce off the water vapor and fine particles present in Earth’s atmosphere. The amount, of which, are darn good indications of weather-to-be!

At both rise and set, the Sun is low on the horizon and the light coming through is penentrating the very thickest part of Earth’s atmosphere. When skies appear red, we know it carries a concentration of both moisture and dust particles. We perceive red because the longest wavelengths in the visible spectrum dictate it. The shorter blue wavelengths are dispersed. Therefore a red sunrise means the Sun is reflecting from dust particles and clouds that have passed from the west and a storm may be following in from the east. Watch for the skies themselves to change color, too… Because if they should appear a deep, brilliant red? That means there’s a high moisture content in the atmosphere and rain is usually on the way!

And now you know…

Many thanks to Dr. Joseph Brimacombe for sharing his awesome photo taken from Coral Towers Observatory, Cairns, Australia. You rock, Doc!

About 

Tammy is a professional astronomy author, President Emeritus of Warren Rupp Observatory and retired Astronomical League Executive Secretary. She’s received a vast number of astronomy achievement and observing awards, including the Great Lakes Astronomy Achievement Award, RG Wright Service Award and the first woman astronomer to achieve Comet Hunter's Gold Status.

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