Mackerel Sky


Mackrel Sky

Since I have been back home from my holiday I have seen skies like the one in the image above. This cloud formation is one known to older people and some younger ones too, as Mackerel Sky, because these clouds look like the fish scales on a Mackerel. The first English written reference to this appears in 1636, but I think people have known this cloud formation and what it means for a lot longer than that.

The old rhyme goes:

Mackerel Sky, Mackerel Sky,

Never long wet, never long dry.

I don’t know how old this actual rhyme is, but I can guess it comes from the time when  fishing captains who depended on their catch, or famers concerned about their crop, would look at the skies to try to estimate what the weather would do. People who lived inland from the coast would probably have chosen other ways than fish to describing these clouds. They might know them as Buttermilk Sky, or Fleecy Sky. Whichever name anyone used has the same message. There is wet weather to come.

The technical understanding of this cloud formation is that high altitude pressure leads to this rippling effect and in the UK at least, following on from these clouds by about six to twelve hours, there will be precipitation. In other words-it’s going to rain.

I am fascinated by the weather in the UK, like most of us here. Why? Mainly I think my interest comes from the fact the weather is, and has been for the entirety of my lifetime, utterly unpredictable within an understood range. I recollect snow in June, warm sunshine in December and a May whirlwind which almost lifted me from the ground when I was a child. If we are lucky  we can get the whole range of frost, sun, wind, and rain of the horizontal variety, all in one day. So, it kind of makes sense that people in times gone by spent a long time studying their local weather to try to fathom what might be coming next.

Boscobel Oak

This image is of the descendent of the original Boscobel Oak. The tree where ancient lore says Charles II as heir to the throne fled and hid after the disastrous 1651 battle of Worcester during the English Civil War. Truly, this tree is a mighty oak.

Ash tree

This image is of one of my favourite trees, the Ash. Since childhood I have always thought Ash trees have to be one of the most interesting trees we have in the UK.

Why the trees?

They are at the heart of another weather lore rhyme.

You have to watch how they develop leaves in spring to gain an insight into how the summer will progress. The old rhyme goes

Ash before Oak, we’re in for a soak,

Oak before Ash, we’re in for a splash.

Locally this year the Ash showed leaf before the Oak and so far the rhyme has proved correct. There has been a lot of rain.

I’m hoping we might get a few warm summer days despite the indications from the trees.

I’d love to hear of other weather lore from you. Let me know if you have a weather sign you or your family use.

Thanks for reading.

Daisy Banks


Makerel Sky Image from Nickfraser at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Boscobel Oak By Original uploader was Oosoom at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Ash tree By Jean-Pol GRANDMONT – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

4 thoughts on “Mackerel Sky

  1. I like both rhymes. and very often sayings like these are based on people observations on weather, animals and so on. what’s interesting is that they prove true, even more accurate than the weather forecast which benefits of sophisticated apparata.

    I love oak trees. In Shadows of the Past the oak tree has an important part in the plot.

    • Thanks for commenting, Carmen. I agree that the old weather lore often proves to be more accurate than modern forecasting. People in the past didn’t have all the technology but they weren’t foolish. They had to read the signs and trust in them. Another of my favourites is: If November ice can bear a duck, the rest of the winter will be slush and muck. Two years running I have seen this happen. Early cold with ice then moves to solc but wet weather and no real snow. Interesting don’t you think?

  2. What a fabulous post, Daisy. I love hearing old weather folklore. I never heard of a “mackerel sky” before. That was quite interesting. And amazing that you actually had snow in June! That’s truly bizarre.

    As for ash trees, I had four of them in my yard. Old souls that eventually had to come down because of their advanced years. We just took the last one down two weeks ago. The birds miss it as it was mammoth (actually two trees in one). It was always late to bud and early to drop its leaves.

    • Thanks for commenting, Mae. I’m glad you liked the rhymes. A pity you had to take the ash trees down. Over here we are losing them fast to a nasty disease called Die Back. Some of them are old and huge, it’s such a pity. I’ll miss the local ones I know.

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