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Red Sky In The Morning…

“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.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jon Hanford November 18, 2010, 1:09 PM

    “Red sky in the morning… Sailors take warning!”

    followed by

    Red sky at night….Sailors delight!

    ….Astronomers too.

  • Jon Hanford November 18, 2010, 1:13 PM

    Ooooh….more “Red Sky at Night”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weather_lore#Red_sky_at_night

  • nssian November 18, 2010, 2:31 PM

    A wonderful morning sky in the paradise that is my home town Cairns. No matter the colour of the sky, astronomy is a hard slog in Cairns. living in the wet tropics means, clouds, lots of em !

  • annanlad November 18, 2010, 5:43 PM

    Red sky at night, shepherds delight
    Red sky in the morning, the farm’s on fire

  • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb November 18, 2010, 7:29 PM

    Don’t know how you guys have learnt this, but in AUstralia the story is more like;

    “Red sky at morning, shepherd’s warning
    Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight “

    I’d guess there are not many sheep in the US as there is in Australia (or our friends in New Zealand)

    Frankly the other versions are a bit doggy!

  • planet xxx November 19, 2010, 1:32 AM

    red sky at night, shepherd’s delight,
    minced lamb and mashed potato, shepherd’s pie

  • Cosmic Super Ape November 19, 2010, 4:56 AM

    I am confused. For one, isn’t the sky always redder at morning and evening due to Rayleigh scattering? So shouldn’t that mean sailors should delight every evening and take warning every morning?

    Also in regards to “red sky at night sailors delight” I don’t see why sailors should be delighting if there’s high atmospheric moisture in the east, because that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s low atmospheric moisture in the west.

  • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb November 19, 2010, 8:57 AM

    The actual words comes from a biblical quote;

    Matthew 16 1–3 (AV) The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3 And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.

    The English version ““Red sky at morning, shepherd’s warning
    Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight “” comes from; 17th Century, and was adopted later in America as a different version, likely during the War of Independence, when most of the English culture was re-paraphrased to set aside as different the new America republic from England. (Hence the variance in North America.)

    I’ll have to search my weather book to see who was the first Englishman to write it in the form. (A Shakespeare, version appear in the 1593 play “Venus & Adonis”, is a cruder form.).

  • Editor57 November 20, 2010, 12:58 PM

    First of all… did I miss something? the earth rotates west to east as does the weather in the northern hemisphere; in the southern it moves east to west. Secondly the red sky refers to the light fron the sun shinning on the clouds on the opposit horizon. Hence red sky in the morning means it is clear to the east and there are clouds to the west which in the mid-latitudes means weather approcaching. Res sky at evening means the storm has passed and the sun is shining on the clouds to the east.
    The description of the cause of the color seems to be correct but leaves out the refractive effect of the low angle of the sun at sunrise and sunset.
    One final thought; the saying really only applies to the Atlantic north of the equator. In the Pacific the red sunrise may just mean another beutiful day of clear skies; the red in the sunrise is just the effect of the low angle of the sun as it rises over a long unbroken reach of water.

  • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb November 20, 2010, 8:39 PM

    “…weather in the northern hemisphere; in the southern it moves east to west.”

    Eh? In the southern hemisphere it most west to east too. What the hell are you taking about?

    As for “in the Pacific the red sunrise may just mean another beutiful day of clear skies”; what evidence to you have to say this?

    Also; “…effect of the low angle of the sun as it rises over a long unbroken reach of water.” What? It has nothing to do with the ocean, as it is an atmospheric effect. I.e. clouds and dust in the atmosphere.

    Wow. So much supposition in one comment!

  • Editor57 November 21, 2010, 11:06 AM

    First of all Crumb you misses my first point; the earth rotates west to east… how could such a mistake be made in an astronomy post? Secondly you should check the link posted by Hanford. Storms rotated counter clockwise in the north and clockwise in the south.
    How do I know about the Pacific? I’ve sailed across it 4 times from San Diego to Cam Ranh Bay and yes I was driving 4 out of every 12 hours.
    the low angle of the sun effect the clouds and dust by its heating and cooling and has direct effect on the moisture over the ocean and over land, the dust in the air. Try watching some sunsets over the ocean some time.
    finally my point in the above post is that most of the infromation is incorrect. Check out other sites and you will see that the description is almost completely wrong.

  • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb November 22, 2010, 2:21 AM

    “First of all Crumb you misses my first point; the earth rotates west to east… how could such a mistake be made in an astronomy post?”

    No one commented on this point, the only statement I made was on; .“…weather in the northern hemisphere; in the southern it moves east to west.”

    This is so wrong, and I live in the southern hemisphere and I live near the ocean!!!!!

    Cold fronts move around the southern hemisphere from west to east; I.e Australia to New Zealand, South America, then southern Africa. I.e. See the animation Latest Colour Mean Sea Level Pressure Chart !! Which way are the cold fronts going?

    As for “Storms rotated counter clockwise in the north and clockwise in the south.”, Who here says they don’t?

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