The science behind “Red sky at night, sailors’ delight. Red sky at morning sailors take warning.”

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Sunrise in Nolensville courtesy of Lisa McAllister

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Tuesday morning’s stunning sunrise led many News 2 viewers to send in pictures. Vivid red and pink clouds filled the skies over Middle Tennessee and it brings to mind a very old piece of weather lore. 

It’s a rhyme you’ve probably heard many times. “Red sky at night, sailors’ delight. Red sky at morning sailors takes warning.” It’s an ancient rhyme that has been around for at least 2,000 years, it’s even mentioned in the New Testament. 

Sunrise in Murfreesboro courtesy of Rachel Carson

But does this ancient rhyme have scientific validity? The answer is yes, it does! In the mid-latitudes, the prevailing wind patterns move west to east. This means that large storm systems also tend to move west to east, with a few exceptions of course. Before modern-day forecasting, this rhyme was a helpful way for sailors to predict the weather.

Sunrise in Lewisburg courtesy of Sarah Caiafa

With an approaching storm system coming in from the west, clear skies over the eastern horizon allow for the sun to light the underside of the moisture-bearing clouds that are moving in.

This can lead to a red sky in the morning and often means unsettled weather moving in. At sunset, if you see red skies, it means that the sunlight has a clear path in from the west. This typically means that clear skies and quiet weather are on the way.  

Of course, this rhyme is not always exactly right. But it’s still a good approximation of what type of weather may be on the way. Now we have satellite data, weather models, and a variety of modern forecast tools to create an accurate forecast. But if this rhyme came to mind this morning, you are in luck. The forecast for later today? Stormy weather!

Head over to wkrn.com/weather for the full forecast at any time.

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