Growing up in Ohio, we kids memorized seasonal weather rhymes like “April showers bring May flowers.”
Except, as a Yankee transplanted to Dixie by the Marine Corps and by the love of a southern girl, I’ve learned those common rhymes many of us learned as kids need adjustment here in the south. “March showers bring April flowers” probably more closely approximates the actual spring flower emergences in eastern North Carolina.
March allegedly “roars in like a lion and baaas (bows) out like a lamb” (another weather saying I remember as a kid that, in this case, actually works just about as well here in ENC as it did in northern Ohio) although this year March actually “roared” a bit here in the east as the month passed on. But as my Havelock-born and -bred wife says, in ENC if you don’t like the weather just wait a day because it’s sure to change. She remembers playing outside on Christmas Day in shorts and flip flops and a day later forced to wear winter coats and mittens.
The Yankee version of the showers and flowers poem I grew up with reminds me of a similar weather rhyme a friend learned as a kid up north, “When spring has sprung and grass is riz, I wonder where the flowers is” bemoaning, I suppose, the lack of color in the landscape after spring had sprung. We blessedly don’t have that problem here in the Southeast with all the azaleas, oleanders and crepe myrtles tinting our views even long after the grass is riz.
And these weather rhymes bring to mind another learned as kids, the lament reflected in those bygone days when we kids would press our noses against the windows looking forlornly outside … outside where the only real adventures existed (as opposed to inside, virtual “lives” many kids are now “living”): “Rain, rain please go away, come again some other day.”
This one from weather folklore works pretty well as a predictor of those coming storms that kept us impatiently inside: “When clouds appear like hills and towers, the earth’s refreshed by frequent showers.” This weather yarn relates to cumulous-castellatus-type clouds that are often precursors to their angrier, evil cousins the cumulo-nimbus-type storm clouds and is a reliable predictor of rain just as is the old rhyme, “Rainbow in the morning gives you fair warning (of rain).”
Another we learned as kids, and appropriate for we Swansboro and other sea-side residents and to the nautical heritage we share living here, are mariner’s folklore rhymes that include: “Red sky in morning, sailors take warning/red sky at night, sailor’s delight.”
“Since weather in North American latitudes” (according the Farmer’s Almanac), “usually moves from west to east, a red sky at sunset means dry weather – good for sailing – is moving east. Conversely, a reddish sunrise means that dry air from the west has already passed over us on its way east, clearing the way for a storm to move in.”
And given that “mare’s tail” clouds, easily recognized as … well … wispy-white horse tail-looking clouds have long been thought to forecast storms, there’s this one that local commercial fishermen probably learned as kids: “Mackerel scales and mare’s tails means batten down and shorten sails.”
And finally, “mackerel sky, mackerel sky, Never long wet, never long dry.”
What’s a mackerel sky? It’s a name given to a sky covered with those puffy cirrocumulus and altocumulus clouds arranged in a pattern of waves with blue sky peeking through so that it resembles the scales on the back of a mackerel that can forecast coming rain, maybe the “Goldilocks just right version” of coming rain … “never long wet/never long dry.”
When I was an active-duty Marine Corps pilot we would lovingly call our military weather forecasters “weather guessers” because their forecasts were like flipping a coin: as often heads as tails or as often wrong as they were right about their forecasts.
Late last month as March was (at least according to the old yarn) “baaaing” out, I noted a “mackerel sky” above us during one of our dog walks, forecasting a change in the weather that ended up as a bit of a “roar.” So, maybe the old mariners’ tale of mackerel skies really works as well as all the weather guessers with their high-tech forecasting equipment and electronic weather maps.
Here’s another early folklore weather saying I found in a book about storms I’m reading that goes like this: “When sun and moon become a blur (shining through a low, gray, altostratus cloud ceiling in a way that you can’t tell if the sun or moon is round or square) within six hours rains will stir.” If a book-writing expert in weather can quote weather yore, then it’s good enough for me.
Why, at my age I can even forecast the coming weather without my nose pressed against the window to watch the clouds. “When bones and bunions begin to ache, expect the clouds to fill the lake.”
I try to avoid predicting the weather by looking at my cell phone’s “weather-guessers app,” a too-common affliction these days in my opinion. The ol’ blue screen just isn’t as interesting as the folklore or being outside looking up at the sky. I think I’ll stay tuned to my rheumatism and keep an eye out for red and mackerel skies, mares’ tails, and the “sun or moon a blur forecasting rain to stir” and decide for myself which is more accurate: the weather guessers or folklore. Actually, I think I’ve already decided. Folklore wins.
Newspaper columnist Barry Fetzer writes from his home on Queens Creek.