October 20, 2016

Not always a sailor's delight

I BELIEVE IT WAS JESUS who spread the unconvincing rumor about a red sky at night being a sailor’s delight. In the Bible, (Matthew XVI: 2-3,) Jesus said, “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.” Ever since, His followers have done their best to make a convincing case for this meteorological mythology. But they haven’t convinced me. Like most met. forecasts, even those from the highest and most impeccable sources in Heaven, this one is as likely to be wrong as right.

I mean, just think about it. Why should a red sky at night mean good weather the next day? What if there’s a cold front lurking just over the western horizon and it comes screaming through at 5 a.m.? Is that would you’d call a sailor’s delight?

And yet this old canard is quoted as gospel in all kinds of sailing circles. Wikipedia, the self-professed font all knowledge says: “In order to see red clouds in the evening, sunlight must have a clear path from the west in order to illuminate moisture-bearing clouds moving off to the east.” So what? What about the new storm system roaring in from the west overnight?

“Weather systems typically move from west to east,” says Wiki. Yeah, right. Tell that to anyone in the path of a hurricane racing from Africa to America. Tell that to anyone cruising in the northeast or southeast trades. Typically, Wiki? Typically? Hardly. Only in a few places.

The same kind of brainless forecasting results from a red sky in the morning being a sailor’s warning, of course. And why always a red sky? I’m sure most of us have seen sunrises and sunsets where clouds were reflected in all kinds of gaudy colors.

Pink sky at night,
Gay sailors’ delight.
Orange sky at night,
Fruit-lover’s delight.

Almost any color of sky at night would be somebody’s delight. But not necessarily a sailor’s, no matter what the Bible says and Wiki regurgitates.

Today’s Thought
To talk of the weather, it’s nothing but folly,
For when it rains on the hill, it shines in the valley.
— R. H. Barham, The Nurse’s Story

“How do you like your new doctor, Ethel?”
“He’s great. So sympathetic. He makes you feel really ill.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, for another Mainly about Boats column.)


Alden Smith said...

I agree the world is full of silly aphorisms which are pretty meaningless - for example:

"A bird in the hand keeps the doctor away" and

"An apple a day is worth two in the bush"

"If it ain't broke then definitely fix it"

Now who the hell dreamed these up sayings?

Efraim Grosse said...

Guess what was the horizon like as seen from the Med cul-de-sac 2000 years ago!
(By the way, He was just quoting what His time sailors used to say)

Mike K said...

My understanding of this supposed phenomena is as follows. Weather systems generally move from West to east. Generally high pressure systems (fine weather) are followed by fronts or low pressure systems (wet/windy weather), and then by high pressure systems again etc. High pressure systems carry dust into the atmosphere with them, low pressure/fronts clear the atmosphere of dust with their rain. You can see this effect after rain moves on - the air is at its clearest and you can see detail on the horizon that is more often indistinct. Fine hot weather often brings a hazy atmosphere - especially if prolonged. Dust in the atmosphere will reflect low angle sun, thus dust to the West will make for a redder sunset, dust to the East will make for a red dawn. Dust to the West (red sunset) suggests the onset of a high pressure system - coming good weather. Dust to the East (red dawn) suggests the passing of a high pressure system and therefore the probability of the weather taking a turn for the worse. There are of course exceptions such as hurricanes (cyclones where I come from) moving against the normal flow (ours tend to move North - South), but nevertheless there does seem to be some truth and reason in the adage. Perhaps in the Eastern Mediterranean at the time of Christ there were fewer exceptions and the effect was even more pronounced.