COLUMN: Weather Wise with Gordon Currie

'The goblet of the buttercup as bright as golden wine.'
'The goblet of the buttercup as bright as golden wine.'
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In a season like this when does springtime end and summer begin, asks Gordon who gives weather prospects for the week ahead.

Now May has drawn her meadows up,

To meet the knees of kine,

The goblet of the buttercup

Is bright as golden wine.

And where she sets her pasturelands

With silver daisy-bud,

In tallest grass the red cow stands

Slow-chewing her sweet cud;

The rich green hedge that runs its

Way,

Round England, daily weaves

The rosy may, the pearly may

Among its deepening leaves . . . .

This traditional Englishman’s picture of May is depicted with such elegance by a poet named Eleanor Farjeon, recollecting the agricultural and scenic aspects of May in those far-off times of yore when like perhaps was a little slower and rural minds were stimulated by the rapidly greening landscape and healthy looking crops.

However, in today’s 21st century reality, there are many points in this word picture which the practical lowland farmer could criticise, the buttercups primarily, and possibly the red cow standing in the tallest grass chewing her cud, grass far too stemmy, too much fibre, too little protein for milk production!

Nevertheless to be fair, who could possibly deny the splendid scenes of olde worlde upland meadows in just one summery splash of May sunshine, where the ‘goblet of the buttercup is bright’ among the self-supporting fruitful pastures with wild flowers amid the immaculate chequer-work of the Daleman’s farming landscape. Such scenery reminds us all that the legend of England’s green and pleasant land lives on.

All this sounds very well, but in a May like the present season is experiencing we may be justified in asking: when does springtime end and summer begin?

One may be tempted to delete the word spring, and replace it with winter this year!

Curiously, I came across an interesting entry in my weather diary for May 25, 1976, which marked the end of a period of low seasonal temperatures in April that year: “As the sun appeared like a big crimson lantern above the Hambleton Hills, I caught my first whiff of the sweet may blossom, scenting the dew-soaked air along a piece of deep hedgerow separating two pastures.

Sun the cold days of April, the hedges have contributed garlands of bloom, varying from the snowy whiteness of blackthorn, the coral pinks of crab-apple bushes, and now, the queen of flowers, may blossom.”

Little did we realise that this picture marked the curtain-raiser to our scorching destiny of the 1976 summer.

At least that year, the may blossom, rather than the month of May itself proved the winner of the ‘clout-casting’ arguments relating to the highs and lows of the month’s weather.

In coming to grips with the more serious meteorological realities this month, we can forget the ‘merry month’ romanticisms and be confounded by the way in which May is still capable of plumbing the depths of winter.

In this respect historically, the month which really triggered my embryonic in the weather was May 1943 when it seemed the war-like frontiers of polar and arctic air-masses fought their battles over the British Isles in sympathetic conflict with the events in Europe.

It could be said that there has been a remarkable similarity between the sudden snowfalls of May that year and the recent Shropshire snowfalls of May 14-15 this year.

The extraordinary weather situation of May 10 1943 involved an intense secondary depression which has formed in the south-western approaches and travelled at speed north-eastwards across the centre of England to the North Sea.

Over northern England a sharp overnight air frost with Arctic air became trapped by the advancing shield of thick upper cloud associated with the advancing depression. With Yorkshire poised on the northern flank of the depression, the circulation pulled in a plentiful supply of very cold air on north-easterly winds. Heavy rain, quickly turned to heavy snowfall which persisted throughout the day, breaking the blossoming branches of lilac and laburnum trees. On this day, a date in the middle of the wartime campaign’s Wings For Victory Week our farm’s open day had been organised.

The big barn swept scrupulously clean from hayseeds, accommodated the bring-and-by stalls, followed by a tea, whist-drive, and finally the barn dance.

Crowds attended, even though the snowflakes blew in between the cracks of the huge barn doors.

My nightly duty of locking up the free range poultry houses involved a two field squelch across the three inch snow cover that evening beneath what seemed to be a January sky with its amorphous cloak of greyness silencing a winter’s world which had trespassed into the seasonal territory of late spring.

Just for the record, May 1943 was an exceptional month, bringing excitement for barometer tappers, having a record low atmospheric pressure reading of 968 millibars over North Wales on the 8th, but reaching 1042 mbs by the middle of the month over England.

The snowy lapse in the month curiously separated one of the mildest winters, 1942-43, and one of the warmest Aprils up till that era of the 20th century, from a succeeding summer of dryness and warmth which developed towards the end of June and lasted with brief breaks until September.

PROSPECTS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD

A close study of the temperatures between the Atlantic, across Britain and Europe into Russia in the middle of this month illustrated just how far out of synchronization the upper atmospheric jet-stream is currently positioned, with oscillating northward and southward looping, instead of the normally smooth west-to-eastward motion. This has maintained a cold, polar trough over the British Isles and a northward sweeping plume of warm air over much of Europe and Russia. A maximum temperature of 84 F. (29 C.) was recorded in Moscow while it was snowing in Shropshire on May 15! Slight changes are afoot, but it will be some time yet before normality of the jet-stream is restored. Low pressure with polar air flows are likely to persist to the north and north-east of Britain, with the area of high pressure still too far to the south-west, producing mainly northerly or north-westerly air-streams which will be unstable at times.