Weather Prediction Weather Lore

The Predictability of The British Climate

The one unfailing fact about the predictability of the British climate is that it is unpredictable, however, that has not stopped Britains trying to second guess the weather since time immemorial. 

The British Isles, those tiny lumps of mud and rock set in the sea are totally at the mercy of the oceanic weather fronts.  The prevailing weather hails from the southwest, so generally, one can say that the western side of the UK is wetter and windier, and the eastern side is drier and sunnier.  The south of the islands is warmer, whilst the northern most tip, almost up there with Norway is generally colder. 

Inhabitants of the British Isles appear obsessed by the weather, and they are, but the weather plays a big part of what activity can be done outdoors, so over thousands of years, people have observed their surroundings and used them to predict what the weather will be, creating for themselves ‘sayings’ or truisms to forecast rain, sun and the like.  For example:

‘Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight.  Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning.’ 

This generally means that if there is a good, glowing sunset in the evening, the following day’s weather will be fine and sunny and the shepherd won’t have to worry about his flock, whereas if the day starts with a glowing sunrise, it is likely to be wet.

‘Mackerel sky, mackerel sky, never long wet and never long dry’

Clouds of the mackerel sky are said to look like the markings on the fishes skin.  They are cirrus-cumulus and indicate that the air is moist.  When there is a mackerel sky, if the land temperature is unstable (highly likely over the British Isles), the clouds will produce rain, but if the land temperature is stable it will remain fine.

Dartmoor, in the South West of England is said to offer five seasons in one day, winter, spring, summer, autumn and one season peculiar to Dartmoor itself.

‘The west wind goes to bed with the sun’

As the land mass heats up during warm weather, the hot air rises, sucking cooler, prevailing air in from out to sea, and creating a westerly breeze; when the sun goes down and the land mass cools, the breeze stops.

‘Ash before oak, we’re in for a soak, oak before ash we’re in for a splash.’

If the ash trees burst into leaf before the oak, it’s likely to be a wet spring and summer, whereas if the oak comes into leaf before the ash there will be little rain.  Surprisingly this seems to work well.

‘March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, or in like a lamb and out like a lion.’

Essentially, if the weather at the beginning of March is awful, then the rhyme predicts the end of March will be fine and vice versa.  However, the March weather remains highly changeable and all this rhyme offers is hope when spring is cold and wet.

‘Cows lying down in the field means it will rain.’

In fact this is totally untrue.  If a herd of cows is comfortable within its environment, a large percentage of the herd should be lying down chewing the cud.

St Swithun’s Day

It is said that if it rains on St. Swithun’s day (July 15th), then it will rain for forty days and forty nights.  Unfortunately, the British weather has the capacity to rain for forty days at a time anyway, whether it rains on July 15th or not!

In short some British weather sayings forecast the weather well and others offer hope when things are awful, but one saying sums up the British obsession and attitude to life:

‘Whether the weather be hot,

Whether the weather be not.

We’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather,

Because it’s the weather we’ve got.’

(If anyone can supply the name of the poet, I’d be delighted)