May 2020 Report – Warm, Dry and Sunny Again

Picture by Mark Pritchard

The Weather in Durham in May 2020.

May 2020 continued the Spring theme in that it was very dry overall, after the first few days, but they yielded some heavy hail showers on May 3rd. This picture was taken in Darlington, about 18 miles to the south of Durham. The weather soon calmed down though and the overwhelming feature was the anticyclone close to the UK, almost all the way through the month after the first couple of days.

Sunny as well – according to The Met Office. Sunshine records were broken across the country in Spring 2020. Could this be due to the drop in air pollution during Coronavirus lockdown? I don’t know, but the weather has been beautiful. Here’s a little graphic showing the stats in a nutshell.

I don’t record sunshine totals at Durham because of the restrictions around my location (buildings obstructing the site), but it seems conditions were more or less the same all over the country. However, the long term figures for Durham University indicate that 447.4hrs of sunshine is normal for Durham.

Here’s a link to the Met Office for more detailed info.

May 2020 becomes the sunniest calendar month on record

Temperature in May 2020

The temperature in May 2020 was well above normal. The long term means for Durham are Max 15.0 degC and Min 6.1 degC. Here are the daily records.  The mean maximum came in at 18.2 degC, which is 3.2 degC above average. The average minimum was also 2.0 degC above average.

The thermometer passed the 25 degC mark on 3 days (20th, 28th and 29th) and was also over 20 degC on a further 7 days. The absolute maximum was 27.2 degC on the 29th. The chilly nights of the 2nd week resulted in the minima of 1.9 degC early on the morning of the 13th.

Rainfall in May 2020

May 2020 was very dry, with only 18.8 mm recorded. This came after the very low total for April 2020. This made the total rainfall for Spring a meagre 44.6 mm. The mean rainfall for Spring in Durham is 141.5 mm, so a 68.5% deficit.

Atmospheric Pressure in May 2020

The mean pressure for the month was 1025.1 mb, which is incredibly high for a monthly average. 28 of the month’s days could be classified as Anticyclonic, with only the 1st, 2nd and 22nd dropped into cyclonic territory. This probably explained the low rainfall totals.

The high pressure wasn’t always in the right place for optimum warmth, at times dragging in a cold breeze from the North Sea, most notably in the second week.

Summary for May 2020

Another exceptional month. The extreme dryness came after a very prolonged wet spell spanning the second half of 2019 up until February 2020. Because of this, the water table was already exceptionally high at the start of the year and no difficulties should really be had over the summer months.

It remains to be seen whether the balmy conditions continue into June 2020, but the early signs don’t look too good, with northerly winds and rain forecast in the early part of the month.

May 2019 Monthly Report – Not really settled yet

May 2019 Summary

May opened disappointingly cool, with the preponderence of winds from an Northerly and Easterly sector, the direction no-one wants at this time of the year. There was no real warmth until the 13th and then only for three days! Temperatures did recover a bit in the second half, to give an overall mean of 10.9 degC, which is still on the cool side for May.

The rainfall total was also on the low side for May, continuing the rather dry Spring. Rain was well spread, with only two short dry periods. The wettest day was the 8th, with 12.2mm. Some areas of the North East had very heavy thundery showers towards the end of the month, with reports of a funnel cloud from the Bishop Auckland area on 28th.

There was more anticyclonic influence in May than low pressure, but it was just drifting about in the wrong place to offer much of an early taste of summer. Ah well, let’s see what June brings.

May 2019 Weather Nationally (Trevor Harley)

A rather cool changeable month with some cold and warm spells. The final two days were very warm in the SE. Dry in Wales and the south but wetter elsewhere, giving an average of 93% of rainfall. Average sunshine although cloudier in the north. There was a fine spell in the north mid-month and indeed the highest temperature of the month was 25.8C at Kinlochwere (Ross and Cromarty) on the 15th. The lowest temperature was -6.2C at Kinbrace (Sutherland) on the 7th.

Funnel Cloud seen over North East England – 28th May 2019

The report above appeared in the Northern Echo newspaper on 29th May 2019.

The axis of funnel clouds may be vertical, inclined (as seen here), or sometimes long and sinuous.  In the UK it is usually tens of metres in diamater (not huge). It is much rarer for funnel clouds to touch the ground and that is when they become tornadoes, but it does happen occasionally. Most UK tornado reports come from The Midlands, Central, Southern and South East England and East Anglia. Our very own Tornado Alley!

If you see a funnel cloud or suspected tornado, you should report it to TORRO (Tornado and Storm Research Organisation). They catalog such stuff and produce stats and mapping.

There are 40 tornadoes per year recorded on average in the UK. England has the highest reported incidence of tornadoes per square mile in the World. That usually surprises a few people, but it’s true!

The longest ground track by a tornado in the UK was in May 1950, when a tornado traveled 107km from Buckinghamshire to Cambridgeshire.

A cracking Spring day in May 2018. From Prebends Bridge

picture from prebends bridge showing durham cathedral
Durham Cathedral and The River Wear from Prebends Bridge

A gorgeous day in May 2018. View from Prebends Bridge looking towards Framwelgate Bridge. It was the precursor of a fantastic summer. The Durham Cathedral tower work continues, still shrouded in it’s protective covering. The stonemasons are replacing weathered stone blocks at the top of the Main Cathedral Tower, as they have become dangerous.

Prebends Bridge washed away in November 1771


The previous Prebends Bridge was washed away in a catastrophic flood on 17th November 1771. It was a storm that proved fatal to many North East bridges on both the Tyne and Wear, as well as many smaller tributaries.

18th May 2013 – A very wet day with flooding

May felt disappointing although in fact mean air temperature was just a little above average; daytime temperatures were just a little above average and night-time temperatures just a little below. Rainfall was well above average so that the running 12-month total remained above 1000mm for the 6th month in a row, a remarkable sequence. There were heavy falls on the 15th (21.4mm) and especially on the 18th (40.8mm), the latter causing extensive flooding in the Durham area. Rainfall intensity was extraordinary on the morning of the 18th with 12.2mm in one hour (08:00 – 09:00 BST) and 10.2mm the next hour.

Professor Tim Burt
Department of Geography
Durham University