Mackerel Scales & Mares’ Tails

tree_hoarfrostI’ve just finished walking the terrier. Oh how this little clown loves snow. How fun to sniff out mouse trails below the surface. The sun isn’t fully up yet so I got to see something magical. Here in the upper Midwest last night, the temperature was just high enough to sublimate the snow.

I just love that word. It’s related to sublime and that means to make higher, nobler… purer. In this case, subliming occurs when a solid (snow) turns into a vapor (fog) without turning into a liquid (water) first. The result? Hoarfrost (hoar meaning hairy). The fog froze on all surfaces as the temperature fell overnight. This morning every twig looks as though it has been coated in diamond dust. Just lovely.

If you’ve stopped by my blog recently you’ve read how my area was in the path of an Alberta Clipper weather system last week. The fast-moving winter storm is named for Alberta, Canada, because that’s generally where they begin before they speed from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. I discovered they also form in other places along the Pacific coast and have colorfully different names depending where. That’s the stuff that sparks my imagination!

My morning blog topics generally follow whatever strikes my fancy while having that first cup of coffee. Throughout January, depending on my writing mood, I’ll be talking on and off about all those fanciful weather names.

Today I’m sharing two cloud features that come with their own nautical proverbs.

Mares’ Tails~
These are cirrus uncinus clouds formed by Mares_tailice crystals in the upper troposphere. They get their name from their fluffy elongated shape that indicates strong winds at high altitudes – a sure sign of an approaching weather front.


Mackerel Scales~

These mid-level clumpy altocumulus clouds resemble the skin patterns on the speckled  fish they’re named for. They’re a sure sign of atmospheric instability and are the harbinger for heavy rains in the near future.


If sailors of old saw these cloud formations together, they knew it was time to lower the sails because the coming weather would bring high winds. High winds meant trouble for tall masted ships, hence these proverbs:

Mackerel scales and mare’s tails, make lofty ships carry low sails. 

Mackerel in the sky, three days dry.

Mackerel sky, mackerel sky. Never long wet and never long dry.

Speaking of sails…I found this very interesting.


I often wonder where certain words and sayings come from. For the next few weeks this word collector is going to examine some familiar phrases to get at their heart.
I think you’ll be surprised.
The phrase for today is ~ Taken aback.

This phrase began as a nautical term. Aback refers to what happens with the sails of a ship when the wind is bearing hard against their fronts and they’re laid back against the mast. To be taken aback means the sudden change of wind or bad steering. We use it today to mean suddenly and unexpectedly lose control, be disconcerted or disappointed.


RB4U purpleToday is Author Marianne Stephens’ blog day.

Romance Books ‘4’ Us ~ Our January contest is on!
Lots of prizes.


If you enjoy my daily musings, subscribe to get them sent to your inbox, or if your inbox is as packed as mine is, check out the Networked Blogs tab on the right and get all the blogs you follow in one daily notice. A new year full of curious and compelling posts awaits!

all7books-smallSample my scorching love stories for free!



About ~RoseAnderson

Rose Anderson is an award-winning author and dilettante who loves great conversation and delights in discovering interesting things to weave into stories. Rose also writes under the pen name Madeline Archer.
This entry was posted in Past Posts - you'll never know what you'll find and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s