Sailor's delight

Red skies at night, sailor’s delight; red skies in the morning, sailors take warning…

While I’m still waiting for the plague of locust, South Florida has been graced with  some contradictory weather patterns over the past couple of weeks. I snapped the above photograph from my west-facing balcony. Lightening slashed through gray clouds to the south. At the same time.

Which really means it’s shaped into a typical summer.

Ever since the first intrepid mariner pushed away from shore, sailors have been trying to predict Mother Nature’s whims. No easy feat in South Florida. For those who rely on the weather outlets, the weather appears arbitrary, capricious, and unpredictable. Afternoon squalls develop quickly, dump enough water to make one wonder about the dimensions of a cubit, and blow out leaving behind only a sodden landscape of glistening palms and waterlogged flamingos.

So what’s the deal with red skies?

Generally speaking, weather patterns travel from west to east along jet streams (which, as one might surmise from the name, are high-altitude air masses). Low weather patterns tend to portend deteriorating weather. So if a low is approaching from the west, grab your favorite bumbershoot and standby. If the low is to the east, chances are, the weather is going to clear.

Here comes the fun part. Sunlight refracts through clear air and appears red. Remembering that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, red skies indicate where you are in relationship to clear weather. Red skies at night to the west? Good weather is approaching. That same hue in the eastern sky in the morning? Well, you know the proverb.

The best news? This simple proverb has about a 70% accuracy rate–which considering that meteorology is based on probabilities and complex forecasting models that are in a constant state of flux–is phenomenal. Of course, that still leaves a 30% chance of getting it all wrong.

Especially in South Florida.