Mackerel Skies and Mares’ Tails

Mackerel sky over Lincolnshire, England.

Mackerel sky over Lincolnshire, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is my column for the newspaper this week:

The weather seems to be a healthy topic of conversation lately in that most of us are questioning why we are only having spring-like weather instead of full-on spring. And today the weatherman said that it is more like February 1st than April 1st as it is only going up to 39 degrees Fahrenheit or what it is in Celsius—4 degrees?

I am going to be a bit of a devil’s advocate here, and say that while I am tired of donning coats and gloves, I have not needed boots or hats too much lately—and the big news is that I have been known to leave the gloves behind for short sojourns. And that is a first sign of the things to come. Over the weekend I wore spring coats and sweaters, but as the evening came on, I did shiver me timbers.

My husband, John, who loves, loves, loves Lee Valley Tools got to visit their London store on Thursday when he went to pick our youngest son, Tyler, up from college for the Easter weekend.  Tyler was not quite ready when his dad pulled into his driveway so he sent his father off happily to Lee Valley to give him more time to pack. Well, about an hour after sending his Dad off, Tyler called me, and lamented that he had sent his dad to his favourite store to kill some time, and he was not back yet. Big surprise! I have been to Lee Valley and Lowe’s and some other stores of that ilk with John, and I know what waiting is all about. What that man finds so fascinating at these stores totally eludes me, but that is fodder for another column.

While he was at Lee Valley he picked up a little pamphlet called ‘Weather: An Introduction to Clouds, Storms and Weather Patterns”. (See how I am coming back to the original topic at hand?) Now, on the surface this sounded a little too much like grade 6 geography class where we had to learn the names of the different clouds and air masses, and other things that are good to know, but boring to an eleven year old. There is a page in this multipage pamphlet that I found, while not exactly captivating, quite interesting. It listed several facts of weather lore, and what those traditional sayings mean. Some I had heard before, but many were new to me. See how many you are familiar with, and if you knew just exactly what the phrase really meant:

“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailor take warning”. The explanation is that red sunsets are usually followed by dry nights. A red morning sky means rain is on the way. Now I knew this one as my husband likes to scuba dive, so this knowledge is pretty important if you are going to be out on the lakes.

“A sun-shiny shower, won’t last half an hour.” This apparently means that showers that happen while the sun shines are brief. Who knew?

“Mackerel sky and mares’ tails make tall ships carry low sails.” Never heard this one before, nor do I think I could decipher it—but it means that certain clouds are often followed by high winds. A mackerel sky and mares’ tails—does that mean that the clouds are shaped like fish and tails? This one is a little too opaque for me.

“Christmas on the balcony means Easter in the embers.” I like this one, but not necessarily its meaning, which is that if you have a warm Christmas, Easter will be cold.

“Squirrel’s tail fluffy, winter will be blustery.” This one is self-explanatory—even I got it. Another self-explanatory one is this: “Onion’s skin very thin, mild winter coming in. Onion skin’s thick and tough, coming winter cold and rough.” And still another that does not take a rocket scientist to understand it: “No weather is ill, if the wind be still.” Well, duh.

“A coming storm your shooting corns presage, and aches will throb, your hollow tooth will rage.” This sounds rather menacing—the explanation provided says that bad weather is brought on by a drop in atmospheric pressure; this can cause blood vessels to dilate, which aggravates sensitive nerves near irritated body parts.

And last, but not least: “When halo rings the moon or sun, rain’s approaching on the run.” Apparently halos around the sun or moon are caused by light reflecting off high altitude clouds of air crystals; this in turn is, is a precursor of rain at lower altitudes. Okay then, that is clear as mud.

There will be a test on these terms, so study up.  And don’t say I never taught you anything.

Bliss is learning now what I should have learned when I was 11. What do you think?