Red Sky at Night, Sailor’s Delight…Is That True?

red sky, sunset, clouds

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Photo Flickr, Patrick Down.

I have heard this old saying many times and always wondered if the color of the sky at sunset or morning really could predict the weather.  Surprising, the answer is yes under the right circumstances.

Anyone that spends a lot of time outdoors knows how nice it would be to know what the weather was going to be like the next day or even that same day.  But, if you are out camping or hiking you can’t get on the computer and check the forecast.  One old saying that I have heard that supposedly could be used to predict the weather is, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.  Red sky at morning sailors take warning.”

Where Does the Saying Come From?

The saying itself is a very old one.  This saying was used by sailors, but also according to a scientist with NOAA, the roots of this are in the bible.  In the bible, according to Matthew, Jesus says, “When it is evening, ye say, fair weather: for the heaven is red. And in the morning, foul weather today for the heaven is red and lowering.”

red sky, sunrise, morning

Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.  Photo Flickr, Psyche Delia.

What Causes a Red Sky at Night or Morning?

Sunlight travels from the sun through the Earth’s atmosphere and finally to the ground.  At sunrise and sunset the sunlight is at more of an angle and has more atmosphere to travel through.  If at that time there are lots of water particles (from clouds), dust, and dirt in the atmosphere than the sunlight will be scattered.  The scattering of the sunlight is what creates the bright red colors.

Can a Red Sky Predict Bad or Good Weather?

Yes.  This old sailor’s saying can be used to predict weather under the right circumstances.

First – the clouds have to be moving from east to west as opposed to a north/south direction.  Around the earth there are general directions that the wind travels at different latitudes around the Earth.  Between 30 and 60 degrees latitude the prevailing winds travel from east to west – known as westerlies.

Second –  the sky would have to be clear ahead of or after the storm.

red sky, rocky mountains

Red sky in the Rocky Mountains. Photo Flickr.

In the Rocky Mountains, most of North America, and Europe the saying would hold true since they fall within the 30-60 degree latitude.

The next time you are in the mountains and you see a red sky, remember this saying and it can help you predict the weather.  I wouldn’t necessarily count on this 100%, but use it as a guideline.