How accurate is weatherlore?

Do cows really lie down when it’s about to rain?

Over 60% of Brits believe it’s true, but does this give an accurate forecast?

75% of Brits have used folklore such as ‘red sky at night, shepherd’s delight’ to predict the weather, but over half have been caught out by the weather when they relied on folklore methods. Here we explain which of the top five most-believed pieces of weather folklore are based on science, which are just myths, and how to get an accurate forecast.

75% of people use folklore to predict the weather

The UK public’s fascination with the weather is well-known, and few have not heard of weather folklore such as ‘red sky at night, shepherd’s delight’, or that it can be ‘too cold to snow’.

Our latest survey has found that the use of ‘traditional’ or folklore methods to predict the weather is far more prevalent than expected. In total, 75% of UK adults say they use folklore to predict the weather.

Most popular weather folklore

  • Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight – used by 70% of UK adults
  • It can be too cold to snow – used by 49%
  • Cows lie down when it is about to rain – used by 44%
  • Pine cones open up when good weather is coming – used by 26%
  • If it rains on St Swithin’s day, it will rain on each of the next 40 days – used by 22%

But how accurate are these?

In total, 58% of UK adults think that these methods are accurate to some degree, and incredibly, almost two thirds think that they can be more reliable than official forecasts. However, nearly half of UK adults who have used traditional methods to predict the weather say they have been ‘caught out’. We'd always recommend that people check the forecast regularly, by using our app or website, for the most accurate information.

To help separate fact from fiction, we teamed up with radio DJ and television presenter Scott Mills to look at the truth.

Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight

83% of Brits believe this to be true – and they are largely CORRECT. This is because high pressure tends to lead to good weather. High pressure traps dust and dirt in the air, which scatters blue light, only leaving the red light remaining – hence the reddish appearance of the sky.

It can be too cold to snow

62% of Brits believe this fact – but it’s NOT CORRECT in the UK. The colder the air gets (for example -20°C) the less water vapour there is in the air, reducing the likelihood of snow. However, there are many other deciding factors when it comes to whether it will snow or not, and it is unlikely that in the UK we would experience temperatures cold enough to make it less likely to snow

Cows lie down when it is about to rain

61% of Brits believe this to be an accurate way of forecasting rain, but there is no scientific backing for this at all. Cows lie down for a number of reasons – including just having a rest – and there is no evidence to suggest it is related to the likelihood of rain.

Pine cones open up when good weather is coming

55% of UK adults believe this is true – and they are correct. In dry weather, pine cones dry out, which causes their scales to stand out more stiffly, giving an ‘open’ appearance. In damp conditions, they become more flexible and return to a more closed shape.

Rain before seven, fine by eleven

32% of Brits believe that if it is raining at 7am, the weather will be fine by 11am - and they are often correct. Weather systems in the UK are often spawned in the Atlantic, and these systems can sweep across the UK very quickly. So, on many occasions, four hours will allow enough time for the rain to pass. But, in some conditions, such as when there is a lack of wind, rain can hang around for much longer.

Met Office accuracy

The accuracy of Met Office weather warnings and forecasts and the confidence in which our public view them is essential to our operational role as the UK’s official national weather service.

We are proud of our high accuracy standards and have an open and transparent policy on how well our public weather forecasts are performing.

Amongst other measures we are: