Where did our summer go?

As we look out the window and see yet more clouds and rain, we wonder what happened to our summer and whether we can expect to see sunshine any time soon.

If we cast our minds back to earlier in the year, there was talk of a winter drought and hosepipe bans.  But after a blistering hot spell in March, things went downhill.  Easter was damp and cold, May followed suit (apart from a warm and dry final week).  Those who can cast their minds back to the Jubilee weekend will remember that June was a washout and July has been little better.  In some areas it has rained nearly every day for the past month.  Is this just a natural variation in the climate, or something more sinister?

The wet weather we’ve been ‘enjoying’ of late is due to the jet stream – a high-altitude river of air flowing from west to east which governs the passage of weather fronts and prevailing winds.  The Atlantic jet stream acts as a wall, separating the cook, wet and windy weather from the northern ocean from the more stable, settled weather of the south.  In a good summer, the jet stream lies to the north of Britain and shields us from more inclement weather close to the Pole, but this year it has shifted south, meaning that cool, damp air has taken residence over the UK.

If we look at history, we will see that a wet summer is not unprecedented.  The summer of 1912 was one of the wettest ever recorded with Cornwall and Norfolk receiving more than 3 times the average August rainfall.  Due to the deluge parts of Norfolk were under water until the following spring.  In the summer of 1960 five major depressions descended in July and it rained every day across the whole of the British Isles.

However, the fact that we may have had gloomy summers in years gone by doesn’t alter the fact that this year has been particularly miserable.  The misery is compounded by the fact that over the past 25 years Britain has experienced a run of good summers.  1989 and 1990 were particularly good years and the mid to late 1990s were also generally pretty dry.

Scientists can offer no clear explanation as to why in this year the jet stream has deserted us and headed south.  Global wind patterns are part of an unpredictable often chaotic system and according to the Met office predicting the path of the jet stream to the nearest hundred miles can be impossible.

It’s hard to say if the recent wet weather has anything to do with climate change, but experts think this is unlikely.  If anything, most models suggest that Britain should be in for hotter, drier summers and milder, wetter winters.  If anything models predict less summer rainfall coming in shorter, heavier bursts which could also lead to an increased risk of flooding.

Looking on the brighter side, we should perhaps be thankful that the drought restrictions have been lifted and the countryside is looking particularly green and lush at the moment.  At least the school holidays have not yet started and there is a good chance of sunny spells across the whole of the UK in the beginning of August.  This may be all the summer we’ll get, so grab the buckets and spades, fire up the barbeque and make the most of it!

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