30.4.2023 | Jeanette Aurdal

Ash before Oak & Oak before Ash...

Have you ever heard the English weather proverb “Ash before oak is a soak, but oak before ash is a splash”? Maybe you’ve seen it in a Farmer’s Almanac? What is the history behind this saying and is it actually accurate in predicting the weather?

Oak before ash, we are in for a splash, Ash before oak we are in for a soak

History of the Expression

The phrase “Oak before ash is a splash, but ash before oak is a soak” supposedly dates back to the 16th century in the British Isles. It was traditionally used by farmers and people from rural areas to make predictions about the following months — whether it would be a pleasant and dry season, or wet and cool. This kind of forecasting is known as Phenology, and it involves studying nature's cyclical events – like animal hibernation and seasonal changes in plants.

In the British Isles, summer is usually considered as the months of June to August. Therefore, the proverb suggests that if ash trees start budding earlier than oak trees, it could be a difficult season due to excessive rainfall and cold temperatures. Whereas if oak flowers emerge first, it could mean it’s going to be a warm and sunny season.

Recently, the oak tree has been flowering first due to the warmer temperatures in the spring. This could mean a success for the oak tree, but potentially also a problem for wildlife that rely on it.

Does the Expression Have Any Accuracy?

It is rare to find scientific evidence to support an old proverb. However, many people still rely on it to make predictions and some scientists believe this phrase may in fact be accurate. This is largely because the two types of trees have differing patterns in which the buds burst, which can vary depending on the area. For instance, ash trees usually grow in the south and burst earlier than oak trees in the north.

The Met Office has conducted studies and found that some old weather proverbs have a scientific explanation.

This old saying has been around for generations and is part of British folklore. Even though there is not much evidence to back this claim up, some believe it is reliable in forecasting the season. Therefore, we will have to rely on old phrases like this to tell us what the weather will be like this summer!

What is the prediction saying in your region?

Other English Weather Proverbs

  • "Red sky at night, shepherd's delight; red sky in the morning, shepherd's warning." This proverb is used since sunrise and sunset to point out to the changing sky, originally known to aid shepherds preparing for the next day. According to the Met Office, when the atmosphere traps dust and dirt which scatters the blue light, it may give off the red light that creates a reddish sky.

  • "Rain before seven, fine by eleven." 32% of the British population think that it will stop raining by 11am if it had started raining at 7am. The Met Office affirms that this is often true because four hours is usually enough for a UK weather system to pass. But, sometimes the rain can last much longer due to the wind speed.

  • "Mackerel sky and mares' tails make tall ships carry low sails." The phrase is true! “Mares’ tails” are high cirrus clouds shaped by strong winds in the upper atmosphere and often signal an advancing front. The approaching front will cause the wind direction to change, bringing rain and wind to the region.

  • "If the rooster crows on going to bed, you may rise with a watery head." This refers to birds’ ability to sense a decrease in air pressure and becomes more restless as the storm approaches. A restless rooster will crow more.

  • "Clear moon, frost soon." Clear nights imply no cloud cover, which leads to a rapid drop in temperatures.