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Of folk meteorology

It’s a well-known folk wisdom1: Clear starry night skies herald good sunny weather the next day. Right? Natasha knows quite a bunch of such tokens and rarely misses a chance to invoke one.

I normally approach these in a non-argumentative way. I recognize that they originate from centuries of collective experiences in pre-scientific societies. Just as any binary prediction (“good weather” vs “bad weather”), they have an even chance of coming true, but ages of observations may be tipping the scales on the “good” side. Unfortunately, I know very little of meteorology, scientifically or otherwise, to intelligently argue this specific causality on either side. It does, however, occur to me, that if the weather can change several times during a day, it can certainly develop in different directions over the course of a given night.

We could not complain about the weather on our recent holiday in Spain, but there was one day that started dangerously overcast. And on the night that preceded it, Natasha observed the sparkling night skies and proclaimed an upcoming gorgeous day. Which Becky and I did not neglect to ridicule the next morning.

Natasha’s dismay was palpable, and she later compared her disillusionment with that of a child learning for the first time that Santa does not exist. For my part, I find it hard to refrain from needling her about it.

Is climate change responsible for rendering these folk wisdoms obsolete? Or have they always been nothing more than old wives’ tales?


1 Struggling a bit here to translate “народная примета” properly.


  1. jason

    Skeptic that I am, I would say they’ve always been old wives tales that just happen to be correct a good percentage of the time…

  2. John the Scientist

    They are also probably geographically specific. Mountain ranges and large bodies of water (think the “lake effect” snow in the Great Lakes region) can falsify such generalities. Wisdom gleaned on the steppes of Russian may not be applicable to the Mediterranean – hence the failure in Spain.

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