I finished sweeping the walks, the driveway, and the lawnmower. After returning the mower and broom to the garage, I locked the overhead door and breathed a sigh of relief. Feeling grateful that the mowing was done for another week, I parked myself on the front step in order to survey my labors.
The afternoon weather was slightly breezy and cool. The sky was partly cloudy or was it partly sunny?
Actually there is no difference between the two descriptions. Weather reporters use the terms interchangeably in order to add variety when giving weather conditions. This is especially helpful when giving a string of conditions for numerous cities. For instance, “It’s partly cloudy and 58 degrees in Omaha; Lincoln reports partly sunny and 60; Fremont is partly sunny with 55; and in Norfolk, we have 57 degrees under sunny skies.”
This works well during the daytime, but at night, one doesn’t say partly sunny. One of my smart-alecky coworkers sometimes sprinkled in his made-up term, “partly moony” when giving his overnight weather conditions reports when the Moon was present in the sky.
To say partly cloudy or partly sunny designation is the announcers’ call. Other sky conditions are more exacting. If I tell you the sky is mostly cloudy, or that it is mostly clear, there is no confusion. However, there are also the descriptions “cloudy” and “overcast” which are often interchangeably used when the sky is obscured by stratus clouds.
There is also a niggling debate among some folks regarding “sky” versus “skies”. Some listeners and viewers get bent out of shape when weather people use the word “skies”. One of our listeners, in particular, was quick to express her displeasure whenever she had heard somebody use the expression “skies”. Her gripe was always the same: “There is only one sky.” There was no way to gracefully quarrel with the listener on the phone, we just let her vent and cool down. She called the radio station frequently.
Again, it’s proper to use either designation when describing weather conditions for an audience. The use of “skies” is a more poetic way of describing the “dome” above us. I’m guessing that the cranky listener probably fumed whenever “Blue Skies” played on the radio.
The plural form of sky simply sounds better when we generally describe particular geographical places. “The sunny skies of Puerto Vallarta” is a general descriptor. “The sunny sky of Puerto Vallarta” tells me of a particular weather condition. One could say “There’s a sunny sky and 35 C in Puerto Vallerta.” Of course, the plural of sky would be OK too. If I say that “I’m off to the sunny sky of Puerto Vallerta”, it sounds unnatural even though the statement is grammatically correct. Saying “I’m off to the sunny skies of Puerto Vallerta”, flows off the tongue and sounds nicer.
Weather and sky terms are more controversial than they need to be. I suppose this is so, because weather is such a popular topic of conversation.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the English peer, politician, and poet, Lord Byron. “Be thou the rainbow in the storms of life. The evening beam that smiles the clouds away, and tints tomorrow with prophetic ray.”