It’s nearly the middle of July and surprise, surprise it is sunny and hot here. It may be sound unusual to find someone surprised of summery weather but it is a genuine surprise to everyone in London and not necessarily a good one apparently.
I remember growing up and it was hot or at least pleasantly warm for 2 or 3 months of the year. Things got hotter and hotter until about 10 years ago we here in England broke the 100 degree barrier. There I was thinking I could look forward to a life-time of hotter and sunnier summers thanks to global warming.
Then the floods came. Every year from 2007 onwards has been a total write-off weather wise. Each has been successively wetter, windier, colder, less sunny, more miserable. Most parts of the country have been flooded at least once just during these summer months which as bad as it was, wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t always rain all winter. The year and particularly the week I got married, it was the wettest every with large areas of England flooded. The following 2 years were wetter and the subsequent ones were if not wetter, colder before the summer of the hosepipe bans when it rained non-stop from March until winter. Happy times!
People looked back and thought that the seasons were becoming samey. The difference in temperature between summer and winter was just a few degrees. It never got warm in the summer and never got cold in the winter. If only, we sighed, we could have proper cold winters again with lots of snow and ice then maybe it would somehow kick-start the summers again.
Much of our weather is influenced by the Jet stream. Normally the jet stream should be just over the far north-west of Scotland or ideally next to Iceland, this keeps the changeable weather in the summer around the pole and allows us to get continental weather. For the last few years the jet-stream hasn’t got out of its winter position meaning we keep getting the polar weather all year long.
Recent theory suggests that due to the melting of the polar ice-caps, the temperature differential between Europe and the North Pole is lessened and this messes up the jet-stream. Other theories say that this is just how the weather is or always has been and a new one suggests we are just in a low spot.
Let me introduce you to one of our friends, I say friends but I don’t actually know the chap.
The presenter above is Liam Dutton and as you can see, he is smiling about how we kept getting bad weather. This isn’t a one off and for months on end whenever he appeared on a Sunday morning it would rain. When he was off, it was dry. In our house we call him the frog weatherman because he obviously either attracts the rain or at least enjoys it. Sometimes you could see the relish and excitement at another wash-out weekend. Interestingly, recently he left the BBC for Channel 4 and I haven’t seen him for months. Does this mean he really does jinx the weather?
How our hearts soared the last 3 or 4 winters when each got progressively colder, snowier and with several weeks where temperatures didn’t get above zero. Surely summer would come now? Our hopes would pick up as we reached March and April and we’d have weeks of sunny weather, even warm weather for the season but just about the time when you want proper warm summery weather, it all gets a bit pants really.
We’ve had years where it never seems to stop and if we have one or two days over 20C/68F we feel like partying. The Met Office would promise us hot summers or even BBQ summers and then it would get wet and a succession of freak summer seasons would hit. I would end up wearing the same coat in July as I did in January.
Even this summer we were told it would be nice and then when we had a few good days we were told that was it for the summer. Apparently it’s not just me but a recent meeting of weather forecasters and scientists decided that it isn’t all in our heads but that summers have been a wash out whilst the summers of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s were as sunny and warm as I remember them. They told us we were in the middle of a 20 year cold cycle and the end wasn’t in site.
Then last week our dry if only averagely warm summer started to get warm and even and I whisper this quietly, hot. 40C/100 and something Fahrenheit on Wimbledon Centre Court on Sunday and 30 or so everywhere else. What’s more we are promised this for several weeks, maybe even a month. Even the economy is said to be recovering, partly due to a feel-good factor brought on by a real summer.
There is a famous saying that when two Englishmen meet that they talk about the weather and it really is true. We will talk to total strangers about how good the weather is, how bad it is, how it was much better this time last year etc. Normally a small proportion of people complain about our brief summers even though most of us have hated the recent washout summers. Some people have it to complain about wash-out summers and Scorchio Summers!
It has been proven that weather effects us all even if in our genes I might be more used to weeks of rain than someone in Spain and vice-versa with the sun. The weather effects our cultures, people in Southern Europe, parts of Australia and America spend half their live outside, eating, drinking and having fun whilst the rest of us rush around trying not to get too wet.
Apparently 10% of Alaskans get suicidal due to their bad weather, something I can believe. Todays survey says that 50% of people have their mood influenced by the weather. I can’t believe it is so low. I hardly know anyone who doesn’t long for sunny and preferably warm weather. These same people generally also like the seasons, a crisp autumn and a snowy winter too. I wasn’t the only one at work who would sneak outside just to have a few seconds of sunshine after hours or days without any real light. It is really not much good at all if it is nice weather during the week if it rains all weekend, when this happens working people can go 6 or 7 weeks without actually enjoying a dry moment outside.
One of the reasons we talk a lot about the weather is that it really is very variable. Scientists say we have just about the most changeable in the world being sat close to the north pole but in the hot air stream from the Caribbean, on the side of a huge ocean but next to an even bigger landmass.
When things get hot or even unseasonably warm, the beaches are packed out and it is quite possible to get 7 or 10 hour traffic jams going to the best beaches or most touristic areas. The newspapers print stories how we are warmer than Madrid, Istanbul or even Saudi Arabia, instantly forgetting that the next day or week their temperature will still be the same and ours will have plummeted (the same thing happens in reverse in the winter). There will be photos of people frying eggs on the pavement or the roof of a London black taxi and for the last 10 years or so, people have taken to using the word Scorchio after an ongoing comedy gag of a Spanish weather forecaster.
It’s great actually having nice weather. Being outside, knowing that the weather will be the same tomorrow as it is today. Do you know, I can’t remember what an overcast sky looks like? Everyone gets in the gardens to have BBQs. Ofcourse we have BBQs in any weather, as an Australian friend just 3 weeks ago said to us, he’d never had a BBQ in the rain before. What would be the fun of doing it in the sun and dry we all wondered? On balance our BBQs have been split between sunny and warmish, patchy cloud and coolish and a small proportion of freezing stormy weather where we’ve stood with an umbrella over the BBQ making sure it doesn’t go out. It’s all part of the fun isn’t it?
London itself is kind of nice in the summer. London really is a summer city and a December city. In the summer, its broad streets full of London Plane trees and cafe culture make it seem somewhere else. As long as you aren’t in a hurry or driving, otherwise you’ll find the humidity makes everyone in a bad mood.
London and England generally suffers from terrible humidity when it does get hot. In effect it becomes a tropical island and it will all end with huge thunderstorms, sometimes every night other times after a week or two. I’ve been in some very hot desert climates and I can say that 25C degrees in London is much more uncomfortable than 55C in the desert. So when it gets over 30, it gets a bit horrid. London because a heat island, not cooling down at night and often 5 degrees warmer in the day both in the summer and winter.
The problem is that nothing is built for the heat as it isn’t considered a likelihood. The same thing used to be said for snow in winter though this is changing. Generally buildings have no air-conditioning and if they do, in my experience they fail after a few hours. Certainly no houses have air-conditioning. Our house is slightly unusual in that its not primarily built of brick or stone like all other houses. It has huge windows and in the winter can get very cold and in the summer gets very hot. As I type, it is impossible to properly close the front door as the heat is warping it. It will be okay when it gets dark.
We have lots of insulation to keep it warm in the winter and it does mean for most of the summer we can keep the heat out. However, once it gets towards 30C/90F the heat does get in and then because of all the insulation it can’t get out again. My main solution to this is to open all the doors and windows at about 6am which brings the internal temperature down from 23 downstairs (probably 26 or 27 upstairs) to 18 or so. Then at about 8 or 9am I close all the doors and windows and close the curtains before opening again about 9pm. It seems to do the trick but sleeping can still be difficult if the humidity is high.
Normally by this stage, ie a week or more of warm-hot weather the first people start praying for cooler weather but this time due to the repeated wash-out summers hardly anyone dares. We are like a bunch of lizards warming ourselves on a desert rock for as long as we can! We don’t actually seem to get much warm weather. Most people seem to find there preferred temperature to be around 25 or 26 degrees C (82 F by my guesswork) but we never ever get that. it’s either 22 or about 30.
I think everyone deserves a bit of sunshine and it really does make almost everyone happy whatever the surveys say. Despite all the talk of rain, it doesn’t actually rain that much in London. It is dryer than Paris and there is less water per person than many places in the Middle-East. It just is cloudy a lot.
Apparently people from Britain have the second largest brains in the world, beaten only by some Scandinavians. Before everyone thinks I have sat in the sun too long, apparently this is due to the long winters and less sunny conditions, it is harder for our eyes to function properly and therefore the area of our brain that deals with visual processes has had to get bigger to cope with this by only a millimetre or so and does nothing for our IQs. The size difference is obvious between the far north and far south of the country and even more clear between north Europeans and people from the Equator. Having a bloodline from Scotland the far north of England I do let myself think I have a slightly bigger brain than Londoners, not that it seems to do me any good.
I hope the nice summer goes on past September like they used to. I want to wear summery clothes and look forward to the Autumn and then winter. Even though living somewhere where it is warm and sunny day has its merits, there is a lot to be said for change and variability. I’d hate Christmas without snow or at least frost. Autumn without the leaves and the smell of bonfires, I just want a few weeks of real summer too like we had in the old days.
What is summer where you are like? I’m sure that most people are reading this in a hotter climate so do you have any survival strategies to get through hot or sticky days and nights. Do you hate it and long for winter or do you enjoy running round the garden with no shoes on? Is your house is comfortable in the summer as in winter? If you don’t have air-conditioning, there is a limit to how cold you can feel whilst in the winter you can just add another layer of clothes. We’d all love to hear from you!
Please see my follow-up post to this in 2015 Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the Midday Sun