Proverbial weather problems

It was a mild winter but the worst weather came in early March with storms, spot flooding and snow on high ground. 

This led to an outbreak of people hopefully quoting the proverb “in like a lion, out like a lamb”.

The origin of the saying is obscure and there are even some obscure interpretations of it. 

One theory suggests it has astrological implications to do with the star signs of Leo and Aries while another puts a religious gloss on it to do with Christ arriving as the lamb of god and departing as the lion of Judah. 

The proverb can be inverted with March arriving like a lamb and departing like a lion.

Weather is important to all of us, at least to those who live at latitudes between about 30 degrees and 60 degrees north and south of the equator. Outside those latitudes unpredictable weather doesn’t really exist. You don’t need weather forecasts in the Sahara desert.

However, in Ireland knowing what the weather has in store affects our choice of clothing, our choice of activity and in some cases our livelihood or even our safety. To get this information we usually consult a smartphone. 

However, before smartphones, before satellite imagery, before even barometers and thermometers, people observed nature to predict the weather. The result is a huge legacy of traditional weather lore.

If we use modern meteorology to examine this weather lore we find 90% of it is nonsense. We can dismiss all attempts at long-range weather forecasting.

A heavy berry harvest in autumn is not a sign of a hard winter to come. God does not supply extra food for the birds because he plans a tough few months. A large berry crop is due to good pollination the previous spring.

However, some of the short-range weather lore, and possibly some of the medium range stuff, is valid. There is an English belief that the presence or absence of rain on Saint Swithin’s Day dictates the amount of rainfall for the next 40 days. 

Saint Swithin’s Day is July 15 and apparently the jet stream stabilises over southern England at around this date and this observation may have some scientific validity.

You can tell a lot about the weather over the next few hours by looking at the clouds, and probably by the colour of the sunset and sunrise. 

You can get some information from the behaviour of cattle or the height above ground of feeding swallows. Cattle like to lie down with their backs to the wind so the direction they’re facing will indicate the wind direction. 

They’ll also lie down when winged insects are annoying their underparts and these insects are more active in warm, humid conditions. Swallows feed on the winged insects and the height at which they fly is determined by barometric pressure and thermal up-drafts. 


Frits Potgieter is General Manager with Muckross Park Hotel and Spa.You've Been Served: Frits Potgieter, Muckross Park Hotel and Spa

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