July 2nd 2018. The height of the summer. This view shows Old Durham Gardens, just to the East of Durham City. We were in the middle of a long dry spell, where no rain fell at all for about 3 weeks. (21st June – 15th July).
The dry spell broke with thunderstorms and heavy rain on 16th July. A total of 27.8mm of rainfall was recorded.
There’s a lot of talk going around about summer 2008 being the ‘worst in living memory’. Well, I hate that phrase, because it is basically worthless. The human memory is horribly fallible when it comes to remembering what happened when, especially regarding the weather. The memory filters out things, depending on the activity being undertaken. It also has no concept of what is ‘normal’, and how current conditions compare to that norm. It is purely a qualitative measure, rather than a quantitative one. In addition, substantial bias creeps in due to media stories from elsewhere in the UK. Some people also choose to disregard official weather statistics (ie the amount of rain, sunshine, temps recorded etc), thinking that their memory is perfectly infallible and that statistics always lie. These people always know best. There are quite a few around, and they always confuse ‘climate’ with ‘weather’. The fact that it has been cool for a couple of weeks means that climate change is indeed rubbish as far as they are concerned. Britain is obviously wetter than it’s ever been and summers are now always poor! So the hottest July since 1659, recorded just two years ago doesn’t count then?
This month, August has been qualitatively poor, but looking at the numbers, it’s not been exceptionally so from a quantitative standpoint. Temperatures have been unexceptional during the day (only 6 days > 20C here), but haven’t dropped very low at night so the mean is still slightly above average for 1971-2000 (the latest 30 year ‘normal’ we measure against). Temperature isn’t the only criteria with which to measure things however. Rainfall this month has been way above average in most places, some getting 200% of normal. This sounds a lot, and feels soggy, but it is still well within normal climatic variation for any one place, and when we look back through historical records it occurs quite frequently. Sure, some records have been broken in Northern Ireland, but not everywhere. In Eastern England, any sustained wet weather appears like a deluge for us because we actually live on the dry side of the country and are used to lower daily rainfalls. August 2008 has only had one completely dry day here, so this makes it feel a particualry wet month, but it isn’t when measured quantitiatively, compared to the normal and it’s range of variation.
Sunshine in greatest deficit
Sunshine has been in the greatest deficit, and I put it forward that a summer without a good deal of sunshine feels much poorer than it really is. There can be poor temperatures and lots of rain, but lack of sunshine is the thing that makes people feel more down than ever about a summer. This summer has suffered from that, with August only yielding about 40% of normal sunshine. That feels dismal and is probably why people feel it’s the ‘worst in living memory’, but hands up who can remember dullness? Who can recall which months in the past were exceptionally dull? Nobody, because it’s not something that can in fact be remembered meaningfully at all. We have to rely on statistics for this one, and as a whole the summer of 2008 has been below average for sunshine, but compared to others in the weather record it isn’t exceptionally poor.
Worst in living memory?
What i’m trying to say is, let’s get rid of this ‘in living memory’ phrase, because it’s a meaningless, rubbish measure. People can’t remember more than a couple of years back at most, and if you asked them how two months compared weather-wise they wouldn’t be able to tell you. Numerical weather records are the only way to remove pure perception from the conditions experienced. Remember, meteorology and climate are sciences and therefore must be approached as such, not in a way that relies on newspaper sensationalism, or taking individual instances as representative of wider areas, over longer periods. Qualitative perception is dangerous and fraught with difficulty. People say conditions are poor, but how many know what the quantitative normals are so they can compare their perception to those normals?
This month has proved to be quite a wet one, with 80.0mm of rain falling (although 111.8mm recorded in Durham) – not a remarkably high total (146% of the 1971-2000 mean), but considering the first 11 days of the month were completely dry it’s quite noteable. Only two dry days were experienced after that. It could have been much wetter, the extreme weather which caused extensive flooding in South Yorkshire towards the end of the month stayed just to the south of us in Ferryhill.
One thing that has been noteable about June 2007 is it’s extreme dullness. It was one of the dullest Junes in North East England – the total of 101.5hrs made it the 4th dullest since 1882 and the worst sunshine total since 1987 (89.4hrs). It was less sunny than May, which was itself less sunny than April. It was thought this ‘reverse’ sequence must be unique, but in fact it has now happened 7 times in the April-June period since 1882.
This month has created history as it is the warmest month on record. The records go back to 1850 at Durham, and this month has beaten July 1983 to the highest monthly mean temperature. To put things into perspective, the average temperature for July 2006 is 2 degC above that recorded as an average for July 1976, a year which was previously regarded as being the best summer in living memory. There have been only three days that haven’t reached 20 degC in the month, and 14 days consecutively over 25 degC since 16th is an extraordinary run of maxima.
It was also extraordinarily dry, with rain on only 4 days for a total of 6.6mm.
The sun shone for an average of 8hrs per day in July 2006 at Durham. It was the 3rd sunniest July on record.
Professor Tim Burt
Department of Geography
My record from Ferryhill for July 2006 shows just how warm things were.
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