7 Weather Myths: Maybe Don’t Sweat That Red Sky at Night

orange and gray clouds during sunset

Our understanding of the weather advances daily as meteorologists, climatologists, and other scientists employ more technology and research to learn about droughts to flooding and everything in between. We’ve come a long way from using mythology to make sense of what’s happening in the sky, but still, many of the beliefs and assumptions about the weather that we hold dear are not true. Let’s examine and clarify seven common weather myths.

Myth 1: Lightning never strikes the same place twice

This is a very common belief, but it is entirely false. Lightning can and does strike the same place multiple times. In fact, some tall structures like skyscrapers and antennas are often hit by lightning many times in a single year. Even some natural spots, like Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo may be hit more than two dozen times annually.

Myth 2: Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in morning, sailor’s warning

This myth is based on the idea that a red sky is an indication of good or bad weather. However, this is not always the case. The redness of the sky is caused by the scattering of sunlight by dust and other particles in the atmosphere. A red sky at night can indicate a high-pressure system which suspends those dust particles and usually brings good weather. Conversely, the red sky in the morning can indicate that the high-pressure system already passed and is bringing a low-pressure system, which often brings stormy weather. That said, these are general trends that are far from a guarantee, as other things may contribute to red sky including airborne pollution or smoke from wildfires. 

Myth 3: It’s colder at higher altitudes

This is not always true. While it is generally true that temperatures decrease as altitude increases, there are many factors that can affect temperature at different altitudes. For example, during the day, the sun heats the ground, which in turn heats the air near the surface. This can create a layer of warm air near the ground, even at higher altitudes. At night, however, the ground cools off more quickly, and the air near the surface becomes colder.

Myth 4: A drought means no rain at all

This is a common misconception. While a drought can mean a prolonged period of little or no rainfall, it does not necessarily mean that there will be no rain at all. The severity of a drought is determined by the amount of rainfall over a prolonged period of time, so even if an area gets some rain, it can still be in drought if it’s less precipitation than it would typically get over a certain time span.

Myth 5: Tornadoes can only occur in Tornado Alley

While Tornado Alley, a region of the central United States, is known for its frequent tornadoes, tornadoes can occur anywhere in the world. In fact, there have been tornadoes reported on every continent except Antarctica. Tornadoes are most common in the United States, but they have also occurred in other countries, including Canada, Argentina, Bangladesh, and Russia, and even within the US, we’ve seen more tornadoes in the South, outside of the traditional tornado alley in the Central US.

Myth 6: The hottest time of day is noon

This is not always the case. The hottest time of day can vary depending on a number of factors, including latitude, season, and weather patterns. Some think that, with the sun close to it’s highest point in the sky at noon, that’s also the warmest point. But in general, the hottest time of day tends to be in the late afternoon or early evening, after the sun has had a chance to warm the ground and the air has had a chance to absorb that heat.

Myth 7: Snow is white

This one is kind of a trick. While snow is often thought of as white, it can actually be a range of colors, including blue, green, and pink. The color of snow is determined by the way that light is scattered by the ice crystals that make up the snowflakes. Blue snow, for example, is caused by the scattering of light by the ice crystals in the snow.

Weather myths can be entertaining and even useful, but it’s important to take them with a grain of salt. One can enjoy the origins of these and even celebrate the folklore of which they’re a part, but be sure to use trusted meteorological sources for up-to-date weather information and safety in the event of extreme or severe weather.

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