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There are other variations of the wording (see below: Other versions). The rhyme is a rule of thumb for weather forecasting, dating back over 2,000 years, based on the reddish glow of the morning or evening sky, caused by haze or clouds related to storms in the region. Due to the rotation of the Earth, storm systems travel from west to east in the mid-latitudes. A reddish sunrise, caused by particles suspended in the air, often foreshadows an approaching storm, which will be arriving from the West, within the day. Conversely, a reddish sunset often indicates that a storm system is on the west side (same side as the sunset), travelling away from the viewer. A similar movement is noted all around the world, in both the northern and southern hemisphere.
There are occasions where a storm system might rain itself out before reaching the observer (who had seen the morning red sky). However, for ships at sea, the wind and rough seas, from an approaching storm system, could still be a problem, even without rainfall.
The perils are foreshadowed using the archaic word "betokened"; some versions use the archaic term "Wrack" (for the word "Wreck").
In the Bible at Matthew 16:2-3, Jesus is quoted as saying, "When in evening, ye say, it will be fair weather: For the sky is red. And in the morning, it will be foul weather today; for the sky is red and lowering." However, some scholars have questioned the authenticity of this passage, suggesting that it is a late interpolation.
There are other variations of the wording, including the following version using the plural word "sailors":
Another version uses the word "shepherds":
A storm system can approach from the west, either on land or at sea.
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