Of Rain Crows and Sundogs

Exploring Kansas Outdoors


During a hot, dry spell a few years back, a friend told me she’d been hearing the call of a “rain crow” and asked me if I knew what kind of bird it was. She also said she had been seeing “sundogs” in the evening and that they were both supposedly predictors of rain. Now I remember someone’s grandpa talking about a rain crow when I was a kid, or storm crow as he called it, and I knew absolutely zero about sundogs, but given their supposed rain prediction powers, I delved deeper.

I found numerous references to a “rain crow” and all seemed to agree that it was in fact a Yellow- Billed Cuckoo. Few, however wanted to stick their neck out concerning its rain prediction ability; one website tossed around the figure of 3 days from first hearing one until rain. Sundogs on the other hand, were quite a popular subject, and are ice crystals high in the atmosphere that, when sunlight shines through them can give the illusion of a second or third sun on each side of the actual sun. I’ve seen sun dogs a couple times over the years in the winter. But once again, however, sundogs ties to predicting rain were sparse.

My search turned up so many proverbs and “old wives’ tales” concerning rain that I decided to enlist the help of Ross Jansen, Meteorologist at KWCH TV channel 12 and play an Exploring Kansas Outdoors version of Myth Busters. I read several rain-prediction fables to Ross over the phone and got his take on each. Concerning sundogs, Ross said there is some correct science in tying sundogs to rain, in that the same ice crystals that cause them have the ability to form clouds containing rain. But as far as them predicting rain, Ross was hesitant to agree to that. Next, I asked him about a ring around the moon predicting rain, and again he said that a ring around the moon indeed meant there was moisture at some level, but said it was so high up that the chance of it finding its way to us in the form of rain was nil. “Red sky at night, sailors delight; red sky in morning, sailors take warning” is another widely quoted proverb about rain. Since weather patterns typically move across the country from west to east, the gist of the explanation is that a red morning sky means we are seeing sunlight through a weather system yet to come, while a red evening sky means we are seeing a weather system moving away from us. Ross said he has indeed noticed that morning thunderstorms often bring with them a red morning sky, and that there was again some correct science accompanying the tale. But also like the previous two fables, he felt it was a stretch to say that they actually predicted rain. We agreed to call these three myths SEMI-BUSTED.

Another proverb I found read “When grass is dry at night, look for rain before the light; when grass is dry at morning light, look for rain before the night.” This one uses the presence or absence of dew at certain times to predict rain. Ross says that the presence or absence of dew depends solely on night time temperatures and dew point temperatures and saw no link between them and a prediction for rain. We declared this one BUSTED. The next was an Indian proverb that says “If the moon is red, of rain she speaks.” Ross said a red moon is red only because of smoke or dust; again BUSTED. Next, I asked him about something I’ve always thought to be a rain predictor, that being the fact that birds fly lower and congregate on power lines just before a storm because the lower air pressure preceding a storm makes it tough for them to attain lift and fly. He debunked that also by telling me that when air pressure is low, the air as a whole actually rises; BUSTED again.
I could literally spend the next month cussing and discussing all the old-time weather fables and proverbs I found while writing this piece. To those of you who put stock in any of the rain predictors I cast doubt upon, I’m sorry to have rained on your parade (yes, pun intended) even though I’m certain some hold true some of the time. Ross even told me that his mom swears by an old tale that says it will rain 100 days after a fog; she even keeps track of it on her calendar. Maybe that will win me back some points and make you feel better again about your favorite weather tales knowing that the weather guy’s mom even believes some of them! …Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors.

Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected]



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