What Does Red Sky at Night, Sailors’ Delight Mean?

Red Sky at Night, Sailors’ Delight Meaning

Definition: If the sky is red at night, there will be good weather the next day. However, if the sky is red in the morning, there will be bad weather later in the day.

The full expression is red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in the morning, sailors take warning. Sometimes the expression is about shepherds rather than sailors.

Origin of Red Sky at Night, Sailors’ Delight

This expression is an old saying about the weather. People believed that the color of the sky could predict the weather. There may be some meteorological truth behind the idea, based on the cloud cover and light refraction.

This is an ancient rhyme that has existed across cultures and languages for thousands of years. One of its first recorded uses is in the Gospel of Matthew.

In Matthew 16:2b–3, Jesus says:

When it is evening, you say, “It will be fair weather; for the sky is red.”

And in the morning, “It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.”

Examples of Red Sky at Night, Sailors’ Delight

red skies at night sailorsIn the dialogue below, two friends are enjoying a day out in the country.

Tina: This day was perfect. I don’t want to go home. Do you think we should extend our trip another day? I brought the tent, so we could stay here overnight. I don’t have a signal for my phone, so I can’t check what the weather will be like tomorrow.

Keanu: No need. Look at the sky. It’s a brilliant red color.

Tina: And?

Keanu: Red sky at night, shepherds’ delight. It means the weather tomorrow will be nice.

Tina: Great! I’ll get the tent.

red sky sailors delightIn this example, two friends are discussing whether or not to cancel the picnic they had planned for the afternoon.

Jonah: I’m about to run to the store to pick up all the stuff we need for the picnic.

Tatiana: Maybe we should reschedule. I can call the others and tell them that we’ll do it some other time.

Jonah: Why would you say that?

Tatiana: Look how red the sky is this morning. That means it’s going to rain.

Jonah: No, it doesn’t. I watched the weather on the news last night. The forecast showed clear skies all day today. It should be a beautiful day!

Tatiana: That may be true, but the poem says differently. Red sky at night, sailors’ delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.

Jonah: I believe modern meteorology over that old poem.

Tatiana: Okay, but if it rains, I’m telling everyone it is your fault.

More Examples

This excerpt compares the weather prediction to a prediction about the plot of a show.

If you’ve spent time on the coast, there’s a good chance you’ve heard the sailor’s proverb, “Red sky in morning, sailors take warning. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.” Judging from the opening credits of Netflix NFLX -0.44%’s new original series Bloodline, the swirling mixture of hurricane clouds over a blood-stained sunrise means the beach-dwelling cast better brace themselves for a fierce storm. –Forbes

The second example explains the truth behind the saying.

Speaking of forecasting, what about the saying: “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in morning, sailors take warning.” Any scientific truth to that?

Absolutely. Those spectrally pure colors are telling you there’s a sizable swath of clear air off to your west that’s likely to be over you the next day. –National Geographic

Summary

The old saying red sky at night, sailors’ delight is the start of a rhyme that helps people remember an easy way to predict the weather.

  • If the sky is red at night, the next day will be mild in terms of weather.
  • If the next morning has a red sky, the day will be stormy.