Oh for that 70s summer sizzler

The rain persists

The rain persists

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Forty years ago this weekend temperatures peaked in one of the UK’s most memorable heatwaves.

What a difference it is to this year’s summer, during which, parts of Britain have seen their dullest and wettest June on record.

The Met Office took a look back at the prolonged hot spell of 1976, which, from mid-June to the end of August included 15 consecutive days where a maximum temperature of 32C or more was recorded somewhere in the UK.

It was one of the most prolonged heat waves within living memory.

The highest temperature recorded in June 1976 was 35.6 C in Southampton on the 28th.

This record still stands. While 35.9 C, recorded on 3rd in Cheltenham, was the highest July temperature.

However what really set the summer of ‘76 apart was the drought.

Below average rainfall, notable from May 1975 to August 1976, resulted in one of the most significant droughts of our climate records and made summer 1976 (June, July, August) the second driest summer on record (dating back to 1910) behind 1995.

Parts of the south west went 45 days without any rain in July and August.

The hot, dry weather affected domestic water supplies leading to widespread water rationing.

Many still remember queuing for water at standpipes in the street.

The National Water Council took out full page ads in newspapers on how to ‘beat the drought’ advising steps such as only taking a bath if absolutely necessary and using no more than five inches of water.

As crops failed and food prices subsequently increased, a Drought Act was passed by the government, a Minister for Drought appointed and plans to tanker water in from abroad were discussed.

Heath and forest fires broke out in parts of southern England, with 50,000 trees being destroyed in Dorset alone.

So why was the weather so dry and hot? During the summer of 1976 the jet stream was further north than usual and there was often high pressure covering the British Isles, while pressure was below normal over much of the Arctic, the Azores, and eastern Europe.

In June and July, both high pressure and southerly winds were more frequent than usual.

August was generally the driest month of the summer, and was characterised by exceptionally dominant high pressure.

The drought broke in the last week of August with severe thunderstorms bringing rain to some places for the first time in weeks.

September and October 1976 were both very wet months.

The 1975-76 drought was the most significant drought for at least the last 150 years in the UK, and is usually regarded as a ‘benchmark’ against which all other droughts are compared.

Meanwhile, back to present day, official Met Office figures just released showed that the most counties, narrowly missed setting rainfall records last month.

And there’s no sign of any immediate major improvement - but perhaps something warmer in the second half of July.

The Met Office’s regional forecast for the North West into next week is for sunny spells and blustery showers.

Nationally, from then until the middle of July, conditions look likely to remain changeable and often unsettled as bands of cloud and rain push eastwards across the British Isles, these interspersed with drier and brighter periods with some sunshine, but also some showers.

In general the wettest weather is most likely to occur across the west and North West, where it will also be windy at times, while the south and east are more likely to see the best of any more prolonged drier and brighter spells.

The temperature is expected to be mostly on the cool side for the time of year, particularly in western and northern parts.

However it will feel warmer in any drier, sunnier periods, especially in the south and east.

It is likely that the changeable weather will persist for many parts of the British Isles through the second half of July with spells of rain pushing in from the west, interspersed by drier spells with sunshine, but also some showers.

The wettest and most unsettled conditions are most likely to occur across north western parts, while the south east should see more in the way of drier, brighter weather, although there is also a chance of more humid continental air moving up across the south and southeast at times, which would bring very warm temperatures and perhaps a risk of some thundery showers.

The temperature in general will probably be close to or below average for July at first, but tending to become a bit warmer overall later in the month.