Regency Weather Lore

Wench weather caspar david friedrichJoanna here:  The other day, we had a bit of a storm — buckets of rain, impenetrable clouds walking up the hill and past my window, trees lashing back and forth like mad things, a march of roiling black thunderheads over the valley.  

This was our taste of Hurricane Arthur, and fairly mild it was when compared to other folks' experience.

It got me to thinking about weather in a historical sorta way. Before Arthur went strolling up the Wenches weather gustave callebottecoast,  I had a week of weathermen showing me charts and maps and making dire predictions.

If I'd had a herd of sheep I would have moved them to the lower meadow or the upper hill or whatever. I would have made sure the roof of the hen house was tapped down tight and in good repair. I could have gone out to the fields and brought the corn in. (We do Indian corn — maize — in this section of the world and it's getting ripe on the southern slopes.) I would have worried about the little baby peaches on the trees — not that I could do much about them.

Wenches weatherchristmas 1820ishBut all that last week before the storm the days were warm and sunny. There wasn't any warning in the sky. Without the internet, I would have been taken by surprise.

In all the ages before 'a cold front moving in from the west carrying moisture' and 'polar vortexes' and 'the jet stream shifting eastward' and 'European computer models' there would have been no warning. For my folks in 1800, rich and poor, every day of the growing season was another day disaster might strike.

Ottheinrich 2 folio 288rRev6a

my view of modern weather forecasting

They didn't have our modern weather shamans, but folks had weather lore and generations of experience and a double handful of superstitions about the weather.
Maybe these worked about as well.

Our Georgian and Regency characters, from the highest to the most humble, would have known all the old jingles and folk sayings.

"Red sky at night, sailor's delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning."

Shakespear said, "Like a red morn that ever yet betokened, wreck to the seaman, tempest to the field, sorrow to the shepherds, woe unto the birds, gusts and foul flaws to herdmen and to herds.”

Matthew XVI 2-3:  "When in evening, ye say, it will be fair weather: For the sky is red. And in the morning, it will be foul weather today; for the sky is red and lowering.”

Which is just a whole lot of general agreement on this principle.

Now, when I see a brilliant red sunset on the horizon, I figger there's dust flying around in the upper atmosphere.  Maybe a volcanic explosion somewhere in the world.


attrib Alvesgaspar

After the 1883 explosion of Krakatoa in Indonesia, the ash caused "such vivid red sunsets that fire engines were called out in New York, Poughkeepsie, and New Haven to quench the apparent conflagration."  These blood-red sunsets continued for years.

But I digress.

When our Georgian and Regency people saw these red sunsets or sunrises, they had some reason to guess at the day's weather.

Sunsets and dawns are colorful because at those times light from the sun passes through a lot of atmosphere to get to us and picks up coloring on the way.  That's why we don't so much get that 'red sun at noon, expect dragons soon' sorta vibe.

Wenches weather Stormclouds wikiIn Europe, weather tends to move from west to east, so red light from the west means we're getting good illumination all that long way from the west. It's clear in that direction. That's nice stability in the weather that's coming.
On the other hand, the same reddish tinge to the east — according to current meteorological lore — means lots of moisture and clouds in the atmosphere above the observer and thus the likelihood of rain.
(I keep reading these explanations and they strike me as fairly 'the dog broke the lamp' specious.)

Or, possibly, since the weather moves west to east, maybe red sunrise in the east is telling everybody that the good weather has scuttled past them and off that way and they missed it. Tough luck.

See a ring around the moon, a storm is sure to follow soon. Wenches Lunar_Corona

Here, meteorologists make the fairly simple and common-sense-ical explanation that the rainbow like ring that sometimes makes a halo around the moon is cause by ice crystals in the high atmosphere. These high altitude clouds are the early edge of a low pressure system moving in.

Logical enough. But yes, I do like the rhyme better than all that "low-pressure system front" guff.


St. Swithin, of course

Then there's St. Swithin's day, which is next week, July 15, and part of the reason I'm blogging this today.  If St. Swithin's day is dry, the the next forty days will be dry. Contrariwise, if it rains on that day, we got forty days of rain. Google boatbuilding.

There is a whole mass of folk belief that some people can predict the weather. Either they just 'know' or they 'feel it in their bones'.  Makes sense to me that changes in air pressure would be felt by the already-sensitive nerves around old wounds, healed bone breaks, and arthritic joints.

And there's lots of lore that says birds can sense a storm on the way and they take shelter. Or cows lie down in the field.

Mandy by Elaine1My dog, who is a great lump of a lazy hound most times, can feel thunderstorms coming long before the sky clouds over and the temperature drops and the air gets that crisp taste to it that tells even a human dolt like me that a storm's coming.  Mandy — the dog — goes searching frantically around the house for someplace safe to hide.  Behind the water pump. Under my desk. In the bedroom behind the bed where she cannot possibly fit.


Some lucky commenter will win of choice of any of Joanna Bourne's books.

So. Do you have an animal in your life who can sense bad storms approaching?
Can you predict the weather?