Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Delightful warnings

Red sky in morning, Sailors’ warning.
Red sky at night,
Sailors’ delight.

The ancient adage may have developed from maritime experience, but it’s based on sound science – at least in this part of the world, where most weather systems move from west to east. Just last Friday, a blood-red dawn presaged a day of rain and, in my home town, messy ice.

A red sky in the morning occurs when clouds arrive from the west and the sky to the east is clear. As the sun rises, billions of dust particles in the otherwise clear atmosphere bend the solar light to the red spectrum, causing the edge of the cloud front to glow. More moisture in the air yields richer reds. Often the clouds signal bad weather, perhaps just rain or snow, but maybe the wind, too.

A red sky at night means the sun’s setting rays are passing through hundreds of miles of cloudless atmosphere, weather that’s heading our way and promising a sunny day tomorrow.

Whether delighted or forewarned, we should pause to enjoy either sky’s ephemeral light show, bursting with brilliance that countless artists have pursued and none has ever really captured.

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