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WISDOM OF SAILORS: UNDERSTANDING THE OCEAN’S INFLUENCE ON PREDICTING WEATHER


Understanding weather patterns has been crucial for sailors over centuries

If you have ever lived in a coastal city you will have heard the phrase “Red sky at night sailors delight. Red sky at morning sailor take warning,” used in casual conversation to predict the upcoming weather. Understanding weather patterns has been crucial for sailors over centuries This phrase has existed for hundreds of years and has been referenced by many famous historical figures including Shakespeare. Like many folk lore or old wives tales this saying does come from a very basic interpretation of the world around us. This phrase is based on scientific principles relating to the materials that make up the earth’s atmosphere, how we see visible light, and how weather or storms are formed. So how does this work? Let’s break it up: visible light (what we see with our eyes) is basically made up of the colors red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet (ROYGBIV). Simply put, the colors that we see in the sky are created by rays of light that are being broken up into those specific colors by bumping into little teeny tiny objects in the atmosphere: dust, water droplets, you name it! Now in this situation, of “red sky” instead of our normal “blue sky,” there are a lot more the dust particles or water droplets in the atmosphere. This larger amount of dust and water in the air is generally a sign of a change in air pressure. “Low pressure” or a “low pressure system” (as talked about by weather forecasters) is generally related to stormy weather and “red sky.” Low pressure is when air is unstable and is moving more quickly and being forced upwards. This motion of air particles, dust, and water vapor bumping into each other faster and faster helps to create clouds. This sudden creation of clouds can increase rain especially if the air is already very moist. And the more clouds will mean: “red sky!” “High pressure” also can cause the sky to become red but for a different reason. High pressure is slow moving air which means lots more dust particles in the air and not really any clouds. The sky won’t have clouds but because of dust it will still look more red. Now we know why the sky turns red, but what about how it predicts weather? This has to do with the timing: “in the morning” or “at night.” Because the weather usually moves from west to east, when we see a red sky at night that means there is high pressure coming from the west. And high pressure means red sky due to dust. We can delight because good weather is coming on the west winds. For the red sky in the morning, a red sunrise can predict stormy weather for two reasons: that high

National Geographic’s Endeavor

pressure has already gone by and the low pressure is coming in or that there is a lot of water in the air. Either way would mean cloudy and stormy weather. This not only points to our creativity at solving problems but also points to the incredible importance of the ocean’s relationship on our weather. Predicting the weather is not just important for sailors who rely daily on the weather for survival but also impacts coastal cities and even land locked areas. Sometimes weather predictions show up in the headlines with hurricanes and typhoons but understanding the ocean’s influence on weather can help even in practical ways like predicting rainfall for crops and knowing when to bring an umbrella with you to work. References (read more here): Everyday Mysteries – “Red Sky At Night…” NOAA Research on “Red Sky”

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