English Summer – Yes

In April 2009 the UK Meteorological Office predicted what they called a ‘barbeque summer’ for the UK. After the disappointments of 2007 and 2008, the British public were promised a scorcher. For a nation that loves its holidays the prospect of a good domestic summer was a relief, coming at a time when financial pressures were forcing people to cut their holiday budgets.

The Meteorological Office breaks the year into the seasons based on months. For them the summer is June, July and August. The weather in June, as promised, was hot. Temperatures soared into the high twenties centigrade and the government issued heat wave warnings. The summer of sunshine had arrived, or so it appeared.

But July told another story. It rained on St. Swithun’s Day, July 15th, and superstition promised a further 40 days for rain. At the time of writing this article, late July, it appears that the St. Swithun’s curse, if you can call it that, is being fulfilled. It has rained virtually every day since. The Meteorological Office has now offered a revised summer forecast and admits that the unsettled weather patterns will continue into August.

The pattern of 2009 is following that of 2007 and 2008. Good weather in the late spring or early summer is replaced by a July and August of heavy showers. Some are so intense and persistent as to cause localised flooding. Sunshine might be glimpsed between the showers, but on some days a leaden grey sky stretches across some or all of the nation from dawn till dusk.

But is the weather actually getting worse? Statistics indicate that average temperatures are climbing over time, following the pattern of global warming that we hear so much about. This raises the questions of how we measure the changes in the weather patterns. What does it actually mean to say the weather is ‘getting worse’?

An opinion about whether something is better or worse than it used to be is, ultimately, just an opinion. It’s subjective, and might not be backed up by statistics and analysis. My perspective on the British summers is that they are getting worse because memory and experience tell me that.

Most of us have a rosy coloured view of the summers of our youth – wall to wall sunshine and freedom to roam the country lanes in safety. But I can also remember washed out summer holidays in the Lake District and other places.

Despite these memories I’m convinced that the summers are getting worse, because they are developing a consistent pattern. Good weather in May-June, followed by a constant run of heavy showers in July and August. If there’s a bright point it’s that the weather at the end of summer seems to improve again.