Predicting the weather with Old Wives Tales

Most of us are familiar with Old Wives Tales, traditional pearls of wisdom from sources lost through the ages but seemingly tapping into an eternal truth that is only revealed to older married women whose only qualification is a lifetime of experience.  They cover all areas of life but not least the weather.

Despite being bombarded daily by weather forecasts that use the latest computer technology and models,  three in four of us in the U.K. are still more likely to rely on old wives’ tales to predict the weather.

We retain a belief – often misguided – that cows lie down when it’s about to rain or that a red sky at night means it will be fine tomorrow, according to a survey for the Met Office.


It found 58 per cent of UK adults believe weather proverbs are accurate to some degree – and two-thirds of these say they can be more reliable than official forecasts.

However, nearly half of those who have relied on old wives’ tales to predict the weather admit they have been caught out.

Not all those who believe the proverbs make use of them. While 83 per cent accept ‘red sky at night, shepherd’s delight’ as true, only 70 per cent rely on it as a guide to the next day’s weather.

The Met Office looked at several of the best-known pieces of folklore to see which are scientifically accurate and which are myths.

Some of them have are decidedly more reliable than others. A quarter of us believe that if it is wet on St Swithin’s Day – July 15 – there will be rain on each of the next 40 days though there is no real evidence to back this up.

Met Office forecaster Charlie Powell said: ‘Some of these weather sayings are backed up by science, others are nothing more than old wives’ tales.

Probably the most famous one is ‘Red Sky At Night, Shepherd’s Delight.  Red Sky In The Morning, Shepherd’s Warning’.  Happily this statement is generally accurate.  This is because our prevailing weather comes from the west.  Stable, High Pressure systems trap dust in the air which diffuses the blue light which can leave the sunset spectacularly vivid and red.

Similarly, ‘Rain Bedore Seven, Fine By Eleven’ also stands up to scrutiny.  This is because often when we have rain, we also have very strong winds and this usually means that if you wake up to rain, it will clear away by lunch time.

Sadly, the Old Wives weren’t wholly accurate and the belief that cows lie down when it is going to rain has been demonstrated to be largely untrue.   Cows may well lie down before it rains but they also lie down for many other reasons.

If you are interested in wordplay and origins of old sayings and Idioms then why not check out my new book, Straight From The Horse’s Mouth.  Click on the book below for more details (Available in Kindle, iBooks, Nook and Paperback formats and many more too).


About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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5 Responses to Predicting the weather with Old Wives Tales

  1. Here in Seattle, WA. we have a few as well. A Lenticular cloud is over Mt Rainier, there will be rain within 24 hrs. Completely unscientific observation on my part has shown this to be true quiet often. So much so, that I change my bike riding schedule when I see it.

    There is also the common perception that summer weather does NOT start until after July 4th. PLUS it always rains on SeaFair weekend (first weekend in August!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pete says:

    Reblogged this on Pete's Favourite Things and commented:
    It’s good to know that some have an element of truth behind them.

    Liked by 1 person

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