What do we mean when we say the weather is “fine”? The word fine is often used to convey the positive attributes of something. It is synonymous with good, well, enjoyable.

How are you? I’m fine!
How was the movie? It was fine.
This is a fine bottle of wine.

When we write weather forecasts we define the term fine to mean that the sun casts sharp shadows. If cloud is thick enough to stop the sun from casting sharp shadows then, even if it doesn’t rain, we don’t think that’s a fine day.

However, New Zealand isn't known as the “Land of the long white cloud” for nothing, and only infrequently is the sky completely cloud free for a whole day. Cloud often comes and goes. So, when writing forecasts, there are a number of questions to be answered when describing the state of the sky:

  • How much of the sky will be covered by cloud?
  • How thick will the cloud be?
  • How will the amount of cloud vary throughout the day?
  • Is there going to be more or less cloud than the previous/coming days?

Our perception of fine weather also varies with the seasons. In the summer months the sun is stronger and even if there is a lot of thin or high cloud it can still manage to cast sharp shadows. Also, if cloud does block the sun for short periods of time we are less likely to notice because the air is warmer; in fact, it might feel like a relief for a short time!  In the winter when the sun is weaker it may struggle to cast sharp shadows, and the day will feel cooler. If the sun is blocked by cloud, even for a short time, then it can affect the temperature more significantly and make you feel colder.

So, when it’s not a clear-cut blue sky day we consider all these things, as well as how the weather will make people feel. Will they feel it was a fine day? Or a cloudy day?

Auckland on a Fine Day. Photo by Joerg Mueller.