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Tuesday, 16 September 2014

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Is that Cumbria's summer sun over and done with?

The beach fills up as St Bees gets hotter than Nice and Malaga, the lawns of Bitts Park are covered by sunbathers as Carlisle sizzles, records are broken in Penrith and Workington as the mercury rises and ice cream sellers struggle to keep up with demand.

Summer water fun photo
From left, Kirstie Day, Jayne Butler and Shay Finney

When Cumbria gets weather as good as it has been recently, you can’t help hoping that it’s the shape of things to come. Then again you can’t help fearing that it’s too good to last – and we’re going to have to pay for it all with weeks of rain.

British heatwaves rarely last long and this one has been no exception. Now the bright blue skies are clouding over, the temperature is dropping down to typical levels and forecasters are warning that there could be a few showers on the way.

So is the summer over for another year? Or was this heatwave an early bonus?

It is the job of the Met Office to make predictions about the weather. According to forecaster Charlie Powell, it’s looking fairly predictable.

The Met Office compiles forecasts for four weeks ahead and he says that June looks set to consist of sunny spells broken up by a few showery spells – just like it normally is.

“As we go into the rest of this week we are going to be picking up a little bit of cloud and the temperature will drop down to the late teens or maybe the low 20s – about where it should be at this time of year.

“It’s unlikely to be as hot as it was this week, but it should be pleasantly warm.

“And we might get a few showers. It will be fairly average weather.”

Mr Powell explains that our location on the planet doesn’t allow us to have lengthy heatwaves. “We just aren’t somewhere that can happen.

“We’ll get no great big, long periods of dry weather and no great big washouts either – just the odd week here and there.”

Besides if the weather was likely to change radically or extremes of any kind were coming then Mr Powell and his colleagues would probably have noticed the signals by now. Without those early warning signs they have no reason to expect anything unusual.

“There’s nothing suggesting we are going to get a definite shift this summer. If something is going to jump out we can see it quite far ahead but there’s nothing emerging at the moment that we’ve been able to pick out.”

Nonetheless he doesn’t rule out some surprises altogether. Although we aren’t prone to long extremes, Cumbria’s position – in the north-west corner of the north-west of Europe – also means it is subject to winds coming from three different directions, all of which bring different weather conditions with them.

Most often we get westerly wind from the Atlantic, which tend to be wet but reasonably warm and bring us most of our rain. But we can also receive north-easterly winds which are wet and cold, and sometimes south-easterly winds from across mainland Europe which are hot and dry.

“We really are at the mercy of where the weather’s coming from, so this is one part of the world where it can be quite variable.

“And the jet stream is one factor that can influence our weather quite a bit.”

The jet stream is a fast-moving band of air five to seven miles up in the atmosphere which can act as a barrier against wet weather – provided it’s in the right place.

“This last week of May it has settled in the north of the UK, but in April it passed towards the south and wasn’t there to protect us.

“The Great British weather is very variable. That’s why it’s such a popular topic of conversation – there’s always something to say about it.”

For more than 100 years the Cumbrian weather has been monitored at a weather station at Newton Rigg College. Lab technician Wanda Armstrong believes it is getting less predictable than it used to be – and that on the whole our summers are getting worse.

“When we had our 100th anniversary nine years ago we looked back at the records and we did notice that Cumbria’s definitely got wetter,” she says. “The summers now are not as hot and dry as they used to be.

She agrees with Mr Powell that the hot periods are never prolonged and senses that the weather tends to balance itself out, so showers are probably on the way.

“We’ll find that we get a good spell of nice weather and then the rain comes back. Just in the past couple of years we have had periods of much warmer weather coming earlier in the summer and then not so much of it later on, into July and August.”

She adds: “I think global warming is definitely having an effect because it’s harder to predict than it used to be.

“The weather is becoming much more erratic. After all you got snow in Scotland at the beginning of May – which was not something you’d expect. You don’t tend to see snow in May on a regular basis.”

Weather watcher Carl Fallowfield runs Penrith Weather Station from his home in Duke Street and like Mrs Armstrong he has observed over time that one extreme is balanced by the opposite.

“You’ll have all this drought and then it won’t stop raining for a week. In the early 70s there were fears that Haweswater reservoir would dry up and it would take years to refill. But it was full again by Christmas.

“The first half of May was the coldest for more than 300 years and then in the last weeks it was really, really hot.

“When you compare this year with last year you can see how it averages out.”

Mr Fallowfield has had his own weather station for six years now, so he can look back at past weather – but he is reluctant to look too far forward.

“We can only really predict about five days ahead and anything after that is a bit dodgy,” he says. “Every day you go beyond five days, the less accurate you get.”

So even though he accepts the Met Office forecast of a typical summer, he does warn that strange things can happen. “The hottest day last year was in October, when we had that really late warm spell.

“The jet stream changes and they really don’t know why it happens.

“People try and look at the details but they should remember that this is Cumbria – it’s a case of what way the wind is blowing.”

Have your say

M.Sagan - I agree the extremes of temperature and the type of life they make necessary must be hard to live with. My philosophy on the British climate is that we have what we have, and life is too short to get upset about something which we cannot change. The same applies to many events that cause people to get upset and in some cases violent, if they took a step back to appreciate what life has given them there may be a lot less unpleasantness about, i.e good health, mobility, and food to eat, never mind the other bits that so many consider essential - alcohol and cigarettes, everyone could live without these if they tried.

Posted by British Citizen on 1 June 2012 at 13:29

@British Citizen. I have thought about emigrating. In fact, I effectively have emigrated -I now work and live in Abu Dhabi, and worked in Russia and Saudi Arabia before that.

There's only really 2 types of British weather that I like - the good British summer and, for some reason, the overcast (but dry) moderate springs and autumns.

But far, far too often there is rain accompanied by wind. Add to that the dark nights and freezing temperatures and it's hard to see why you'd like the British weather, on the whole.

Also, I've never once heard of somebody emigrating to the UK because of the diversity of the weather there (we're famous for bad food and bad weather - and it's hard to argue with either point), so i think your notion that we should appreciate the UK weather's variety might be more wishful thinking than anything else.

50c in Abu Dhabi/Saudi is too hot, and -50c in Russia is plain painful and dangerous. The UK weather is more 'annoying' than anything else. It's constantly unpredictable and, like the England football team, is occasionally good but ultimately bound to let you down.

The one thing I would say in favour of the British weather is that I think it has had a good effect on the national character and, I suspect, has helped us to be as successful as we have been as a nation.

Good luck!

Posted by M. Sagan on 31 May 2012 at 13:47

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