I've always wondered since I was a young lad about an old saying that goes:
Red sky at night, sailor's delight.
Red sky at morning, sailor take warning.
I know it must have something to do with some type of weather, so if you could find the answer I would appreciate it.
— Carl, Medford
Carl, we're glad to take on your query here in the Nautical Rhymes department of Since You Asked headquarters. Besides, they don't call us "portly" for nothing.
We did some digging for the roots of this saying, and found an article on the Library of Congress website. The article points to a form of the adage found in the New Testament, Matthew 16 to be specific. Verses 2 and 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."
The Library of Congress also notes that William Shakespeare mentioned the phenomenon in "Venus and Adonis":
"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 herdsmen and to herds."
A June 23, 2003, Scientific American article looked into the validity of the phrase using the NOAA's Joe Sienkiewicz.
The article explained that the phrase is often true because weather systems in the middle latitudes of the globe typically move from east to west.
You may know that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, but you may not know that the sun's rays travel through a greater amount of the Earth's atmosphere at sunrise and sunset. Red sky in the morning means that light is traveling through a high concentration of water vapor, dirt and dust in the lowest part of the atmosphere — usually caused by a high-pressure weather system. A red sunset, the article explains, means a high-pressure weather system is moving away as sunlight shines through the clouds.
There is one time that the red sky at night is no delight: When the red hue is created by the smoke put out by forest fires, something we've all become a bit too familiar with in recent days.
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