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Traditional Weather Lore Sayings of Britain

Updated on September 19, 2015

Weather lore sayings are based on nature

The capricious British weather provided a fertile basis for the development of weather lore sayings in centuries past. Observations of natural phenomena, mixed with a pinch of superstition, gave rise to a rich collection of sayings to help with weather prediction. It is perhaps not surprising that much of British weather lore is to do with rain. A popular saying with numerous regional variants sums up the most likely outcome for Britain. In Wales, where I live, people say: “When you can see the hills, it’s going to rain; when you can’t see the hills, it’s raining!”

Weather lore predicts weather on the basis of: animal behavior; observation of plants; appearance of the sky and atmospheric phenomena; and by what happens at a certain time.

This hub gives examples of British weather lore. Please comment with examples from your country/region.

"When Kitty washes behind her ears, we'll soon be tasting heaven's tears"
"When Kitty washes behind her ears, we'll soon be tasting heaven's tears"

Animal behaviour in weather lore sayings


When a cat sneezes, rain is on the way.

“If a cat washes its face o’er its ear,
’tis a sign the weather will be fine and clear”

If a cat sits with its back to the fire, frost and hard weather can be expected.

My cats sometimes have a “mad half hour”. They run all over the house, claw at everything and roll around on the floor. This was believed to predict heavy winds or a storm.

If a cat stays out for the night and caterwauls loudly, the weather will be bad for the next few days.

Other farm and domestic animals:

Cows lie down in the field before rain.

Dogs will start eating grass when rain is coming.

Farmers on the Isle of Man considered a storm was on the way when pigs ran around energetically, especially if they had straw hanging out of their mouths and ran towards home.

Moles work harder before rain
Moles work harder before rain


When geese cackle, rain is due; when they honk, a dry spell is coming.

Wild geese fly high when fine weather is imminent. Storms can be expected when they fly low.

Crows warn us of rain when they caw and walk alongside pools and rivers.

When the woodpecker laughs, rain is on the way.

On Dartmoor they say: 
“If at dimpsey [twilight]  the frogs do croakin', we'em be soon due a soakin'”

When bees fly far from their hives and return late, fine weather will come. When rain is due, bees are more industrious, but do not fly far.

Flies become more annoying just before rain.

Spiders spinning webs on the grass means fair weather.

Gnats flying up and down at sunset predict hot weather.

If seaweed feels dry, the weather will be dry, if slimy, there will be rain
If seaweed feels dry, the weather will be dry, if slimy, there will be rain

Weather lore sayings about plants

Pine cones open up in dry weather and close when rain is coming.

“When the dew is in the grass, rain will never come to pass.
When grass is dry at morning light, look for rain before the night”

In Huntingdonshire, the mulberry was called the wise tree. When it started to put out shoots, there would be no more frost.

The Welsh believed a storm was due if marigold flowers did not open early in the morning.

“If in the fall of the leaf in October many leaves wither on the boughs and hang there, it betokens a frosty winter and much snow”

Oak and ash trees were watched in early spring to see which would put out shoots first:

“If the Ash before the Oak,
Then there'll be a regular soak;
But if the Oak before the Ash,
Then there'll only be a splash”

Scarlet pimpernel
Scarlet pimpernel

The poet John Clare was the son of a farm worker in Northamptonshire. His Shepherd’s Calendar (1827) includes weather lore in the poem for May:

“And scarlet-starry points of flowers,
Pimpernel, dreading nights and showers
Oft call'd “the Shepherd's weather-glass”,
That sleeps till suns have dried the grass,
Then wakes, and spreads its creeping bloom,
Till clouds with threatening shadows come,
Then close it shuts to sleep again;
Which weeders see and talk of rain”

Weather lore sayings of the sky and atmospheric phenomena

John Clare’s poem The Woodman contains the verses:

“And as most labourers knowingly pretend
By certain signs to judge the weather right,
As oft from "Noah's ark" great floods descend,
And "buried moons" foretell great storms at night”

Charles Dack, in Weather and Folklore of Peterborough and District(1911), cites John Clare as explaining that Noah’s Ark is, "a long dark cloud stretching across the heavens, broad in the centre and tapering at each end, resembling the figure of the ark, and supposed to foretell great floods. But it depends on the direction of the ark. If it is from south to north it is a sign of good weather, but if from east to west bad weather."

I have not been able to find out what is meant by “buried moons” (hidden by clouds?). Suggestions welcome.

A ring around the sun and moon: a rainy day is coming soon
A ring around the sun and moon: a rainy day is coming soon

“Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight.
Red sky at morning, shepherd’s warning”

“Mackerel scales and mare’s tails, make lofty ships carry low sails”
(This refers to altocumulus and cirrus clouds foretelling an approaching storm)

“Near full moon a misty sunrise,
Bodes fair weather and cloudless skies”

“When the clouds of the moon to the West fly away, You may safely rely on a settled fair day”

“When mountains and cliffs in the clouds appear,
Some sudden or violent showers are near”

Sound was also predictive:

“When forests murmur and mountains roar, close your windows and shut the door”

In Peterborough it was said:
“When the Clock of the Abbey strikes three minutes slow,
The river's bright waters will soon overflow;
When the Church Clock and Abbey Clock strike both together,
There will soon be a death or a change of the weather”

Weather lore sayings linked to certain times

I’ve selected one saying for each month. Jeremy Sewell has many more.

1. “If the grass do grow in Janiveer, it grows the worse for all the year”

2. “If Candlemas Day [February 2] is cold and clear, there'll be two winters in that year”

3. “If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb”

4. In Manx:
“Tra heidys Avril big e chayrn,
Sy thehll vees palchey traagh as
[When April. sounds aloud his horn,
Great crops will be of hay and corn]

5. “A wet May brings a load of hay”

6. “If St Paul's day [June 29] be fair and clear, it does betide a happy year.
But if it chance to snow or rain, then will be dear all kinds of grain.
If clouds or mists do dark the sky, great store of birds and beasts shall die.
And if the winds do file aloft, then war shall vex the kingdom oft”.

7. July 15 is associated with a very well known proverb:

“St. Swithin's Day, if thou dost rain,
For forty days it will remain
St. Swithin's Day, if thou be fair
For forty days 'twill rain nae mair”

Swithin, Bishop of Winchester, died in 862. He wanted an outdoor grave so that "sweet rain from heaven" would fall on it. A century later, the monks decided to move his remains to a shrine (destroyed during the Reformation) inside Winchester Cathedral. The move was set for July 15, 971. On that day, torrential rain started and continued for 40 days. This was believed to be St Swithin showing his displeasure.

8. “If Bartlemas Day [August 24] be fine and clear
Then a prosperous autumn comes that year”

9. September 29, Michaelmas Day
“If St Michael brings many acorns, Christmas will cover the fields with snow”

10. “When berries are many in October, beware a hard winter”

11. “If there’s ice in November to hold up a duck,

for the rest of the year there’ll be slush and muck”

12. Rain before Mass on the first Sunday in December means rain for a week

Weather lore wizards

Wil Awst (William Augustus) from Cil-y-cwm , near Llandovery, Carmarthenshire was said to forecast the onset of rain, frost, gales, or storms to the very hour. His The Husbandman's Perpetual Prognostication (1794) contains weather lore in English and Welsh.

A recent master of weather lore was Yorkshireman Bill Foggitt, called the “Oracle of Thirsk”. Bill’s family started keeping weather records in 1830. Bill began adding to them at the age of 12. He became locally known for being more accurate than the Met Office. He observed plants and animals and made deductions from his records. Bill believed weather follows cycles, with very hot summers occurring every 22 years and very hard winters every 15 years.

In 1985, the Met Office predicted a long cold winter. Bill disagreed. He had seen a mole poking its nose through the snow, which meant milder weather was coming. Bill’s correct prediction brough him national fame.

Like the Met Office, Bill failed to predict the great storm of 1987. Later he said he should have taken more notice of his neighbour’s cat: “Blackie, went crackers, jumping up poles and into trees. That was a sure sign.”

Do weather lore sayings really predict the weather?

Cloud formations certainly show what weather is imminent. Pine cones, seaweed and salt, which change with humidity, will indicate whether rain is likely. Changes in atmospheric pressure, temperature and light do influence plant and animal behaviour. I’m more sceptical about weather on a particular day determining a future pattern.

Peter Freeland’s Testing weather lore in schools discusses the possible scientific basis of some weather lore and gives suggestions on how to test this.

The Met Office promised the UK a “barbeque summer” in 2009. It turned out to be one of the filthiest summers for decades. Perhaps a weather lore wizard might have given us better warning.

Photos by:
From Wiki Commons:
Michael David Hill, 2005 (mole)
Sannse, Great Holland Pits, Essex, 11 June 2004 (scarlet pimpernel)
Mp (moon)
and Tracy Ducasse (ms. Tea), on Flickr (cat washing)
Papa Lazarou (jamsjoys) on Flickr (acorns and berries)

What is your view?

Can weather lore can be used to predict the weather?

See results


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    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      5 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Most interesting, indeed!

      The ones with which I'm familiar come from my parents, who were both from New England. One is similar to your shepherd's lore:

      "Red sky at morning; sailors take warning. Red sky at night, sailors delight."

      The Candelmas (Groundhog Day) lore is quite amusing--if the groundhog sees his shadow, there will be 6 more weeks of winter; if not, spring will be early. Well, now! Considering that February 2nd is just bout 6 weeks from the Vernal Equinox (official start of spring), that' quite a convenient bit of lore, eh? ;-)

      The only other bit I've heard is that a ring around the moon means rain, but I've not seen that to necessarily be true, for a ring around the moon is usually only seen on a very clear, very cold night.

      Voted up, interesting and useful. And congrats on the radio show!

    • RTalloni profile image


      5 years ago from the short journey

      Fun stuff. :) Last week I heard someone say that the band on some sort of wooly worm indicated that we were going to have a cold winter. Being from Florida, any winter is harsh to me, but the real question that begged to be asked is whether winters are supposed be cold. I just smiled, though, just like I smiled at the lines, "...There will soon be a death or a change of the weather". Do you think maybe so? seems like a reasonable question on being told that. :)

    • WriteAngled profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Abertawe, Cymru

      Thank you kindly, Sir.

      Blue sky and sun, hmmmm... not here in Wales!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great hub full of interest and superbly written. I'm sure that whilst most of these sayings hardly constitute a reliable system of weather prediction, there are grains of truth in some. In any case, a fascinating bit of research. You know that they say of the UK weather also, "If you don't like the weather in Britain...just wait five minutes!" This morning we have had strong winds followed by torrential rain and now the sky is blue and the sun is shining but it could equally well be snowing in an hour or so!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      i rated you UP. haha i am smiling from reading this beautiful hub! you are right, nature and animals just know when the weather will change. i always know when we will be getting freezing nights because of a huge ash tree in my back yard. its leaves always turn yellow right before it gets really cold at night. it was late this year. everyone kept going 'when is it going to get really cold anyway? and i said 'the tree hasn't changed yet but when it does, you'll know' and sure enough, as soon as it turned, it goit cold! excellent and well written.

    • ncmonroe1981 profile image


      9 years ago from West Virginia

      Write! A kindred spirit, I can always tell! Thank you for taking the time to pop over and check out my Hubs. This is a wonderful Hub; I love the collection of weather lore. And you know what? Sometimes my cats go nuts for a little while (running madly from room to room, jumping on everything in sight)...sometimes right before a big storm. So that, at least, seems to have some basis in truth. Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading more of your Hubs!

    • WriteAngled profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Abertawe, Cymru

      Thank you very much. :)

    • The Rope profile image

      The Rope 

      9 years ago from SE US

      Great hub! In the US, many people still use the Farmer's Almanac to predict weather, crops, etc. It is a fun read and still very useful in some incidences.

    • WriteAngled profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Abertawe, Cymru

      Heh, Heh, it rains 730 days a year in Wales! Glad you enjoyed, and thank you for your kind comments.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      My Goodness, it sounds as if it rains in the U.K. for at least 435 days a year! Thank you for offering up these unique and oft-humorous weather predictions. I am so glad I stopped this way; please write more as you've just gotten another fan. :-)

    • WriteAngled profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Abertawe, Cymru

      Glad you enjoyed it, Cagsil. Good of you to come back :)

    • WriteAngled profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Abertawe, Cymru

      Thank you, Beth100, for adding some weather lore from your region.

    • Beth100 profile image


      9 years ago from Canada

      I've learned many new lores in your article and have enjoyed reading it. Here in the prairies, it will be a storm in the evening if the cows come home on their own to the barn before noon.

    • Cagsil profile image


      9 years ago from USA or America

      Okay, I don't get it and I don't mean your article. I enjoyed the article and it's even obvious that I have been here before and read this article of yours, because I voted in your poll, but apparently I didn't leave a comment, which is weird. Thank you very much for sharing and I did learn something new.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      9 years ago from East Coast, United States

      I love all the weather sayings! We here across 'the Pond' have had our share of damp, rainy weather lately. It makes me sleepy.

    • LizzyBoo profile image


      9 years ago from Czech Republic

      I am your fan lady!!!! You made your hub pretty well! :-)

    • Rebecca E. profile image

      Rebecca E. 

      9 years ago from Canada

      wow what a wonderful hub, great first job keep this up it is wonderful and fasinating!

    • Gabriella D'Anton profile image

      Gabriella D'Anton 

      9 years ago from Los Angeles, Ca

      This is a great informative and fun to read hub; loved it. Welcome to Hubpages and I wish you the best of luck and happy writings

    • WriteAngled profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Abertawe, Cymru

      Thank you very much, LizzyBoo.

    • LizzyBoo profile image


      9 years ago from Czech Republic

      Wooow, I love Britain so much. Thank you for all the information dear. Well done made.

    • WriteAngled profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Abertawe, Cymru

      Thank you froggie, hawk and cmhypno for your kind words and welcome. This seems a really good place to be. CMHypno, another Egypt-freak, wonderful!

    • CMHypno profile image


      9 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Welcome to another British Hubber! Lots of great information in your Hub, hope you write lots more.

    • Hawkesdream profile image


      9 years ago from Cornwall

      Well done, terrific first hub, I agree with the frog, you have done just fine. Welcome to Hubs

    • frogdropping profile image


      9 years ago

      A wonderfully well written first hub - you should be proud of your effort. And it's fine to identify the source of the pictures, though not necessary to link, just mention them as the source.

      Your links are fine, providing there are no more than two links to the same site.

      Well done - you're a potential quality hubber that takes pains to observe the TOS, as well as delivers first rate text.

      Welcome to HubPages :)


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