'Never curse the rain' was sound weather wisdom

Jerry Apps
According to Jerry Apps' father, a red sky in the morning meant a change in the weather, most likely rain.

On my recent, daily early morning walk, I noticed the red sky stretching from horizon to horizon. I remembered my father’s words, “Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.”  The meaning‒ foul weather was on the way, be prepared (whether you were a sailor or a farmer). 

Two hours later, the storm clouds moved in and rain began. Cold, autumn rain, but nonetheless, appreciated rain.  On the home farm it seemed we never had enough rain—our sandy soil required it; nothing much grew without goodly amounts of rain.  When one of my brothers or I would complain about a rainy day, Pa would say, “Never curse the rain.”  I have never forgotten that admonition, no matter how hard it rained, or how wet I got. 

Rain was something we always appreciated—and this year, 2022, is no exception as we read about barges on the Mississippi getting stuck on the bottom of that mighty river because the water level is too low.  The West and Southwest continue to experience severe drought.  I also recently read that Texas cotton farmers have suffered because of the drought. Cotton is Texas’ largest crop.  Cotton farmers are expecting half their normal annual yield this year.

In Wisconsin, for the most part, the rains have come regularly this year.  At my farm. I had green grass in my lawn all summer-long.  Often, by mid-summer the rains stopped and the grass turned brown until it rained again. 

Checking the National Weather Service, Wisconsin State Records, I discovered that Wisconsin has had some record rainfalls in recent years. In 2019, 44.6 inches of rain fell, followed by 39.7 in 2018. The least rain fell in 1910 — 20.5 inches. 

During the Great Depression, the country saw the least annual rainfall for a five-year period, 1929 to 1933.  These were the years of the Dust Bowl when the dry winds of summer filled the air with the soil from thousands of acres of farmland. 

The wettest five-year period for annual rainfall in Wisconsin was 2015 to 2019.  The greatest 24-hour rainfall, in Wisconsin, 11.72 inches fell in Mellen, WI on June 24, 1946. 

As farmers, young and old, have long known, ample rainfall can make the difference between success and failure on the farm. Remember, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in the morning sailors take warning.”

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: Watching the sky is one good way of predicting the weather.

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work, go to or contact him

Jerry Apps