COLUMN: Weather Wise with Gordon Currie

Members of a flock ready to supply us with attire. (S)
Members of a flock ready to supply us with attire. (S)
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More meteorological musings with Gordon, plus weather prospects for the week ahead.

Happy the man whose wish

And care

A few paternal acres bound,

Content to breathe his native air

In his own ground.

Whose herds with milk, whose

Fields with bread,

Whose flocks supply him with

Attire,

Whose trees in summer yield

Him shade,

In winter, fire.

These lines from The Quiet Life were written by Alexander Pope at the commencement of the 18th century, reflecting the great rural philosophy of the pre-Industrial Revolution days, the age which seemed to decree the acceptance of taking life as it came.

In spite of springtime’s uncertainties, the very heart of olde style rural England ticked its way through the month of May to discover nature’s harmonious blending with the eventual rush of summer.

At least the poet portrays this optimistic picture, tempting everyone to believe that it was the rush of summer, because in actual fact the year 1700 was the first of three successive years which exceeded all expectations in the agricultural cropping scene. Warm, spring-like weather began in February, spanning the months of March and April.

A timely rainfall in May with lowering temperatures was then succeeded by a sunny, dry summer which proved to be completely favourable for crops of every description.

The weather definitely carried the flag for the farmers, all 330,000 of them at that time in history, plus an estimated 573,000 agricultural workers in England and Wales. The feelings of well being in the English countryside were certainly proven not only with the fields but in the realism of Pope’s inspiration.

Contrasting this farming picture of history, we can fast-forward life in the countryside across more than three centuries to the present season and this year’s legacy of May’s weather which has completed our coldest spring here in my part of North Yorkshire since 1986.

Indeed, not only for dairy farmers but for all stock keepers whose grazing pastures lie on an exposed aspect to the north and north-east, the climatic events of the past three months have brought a great deal of angst and trepidation to say the least.

Changing practices in grazing and intensification of grassland utilisation have certainly come to the fore over the centuries, and yet May’s customary wave of expectancy, those hopes of what can be achieved, still cannot be fulfilled without the optimum weather conditions.

It almost begs the question: are we going forwards or backwards with farming’s struggling efforts against the un-exact science of our weather.

Inevitably, this brings me to the subject of last month’s statistics, which, it must be admitted, raise a few interesting factors.

Looking first of all at temperatures, the mean maximum figure was 58.8 F. (14.8 C.), minimum, 43.7 F. (6.4 C.) producing an overall mean of 51.2 F. (10.6 C.) compared with the long period average of 52.5 F. (11.3 C.).

In keeping with its two spring counterparts March and April, the month featured a preponderance of daytime coolness, having only two days exceeding 70 F. (21 C.) the 7th and the 26th, in comparison to nine days between 72 – 79 F. (22 – 26 C.) in the second half of May last year. This at least proves it was not entirely ‘doom and gloom’ in 2012!

Thankfully, many cloudy nights managed to maintain night temperatures several degrees away from freezing point, the coldest nights being 1st-2nd and 2nd-3rd, with 37F. (3 C.) with 38 F. (3.6 C.) on the 22nd-23rd. The mildest nights records 50 F. (10 C.) on the 4th-5th, 18th-19th, and 52 F. (11 C.) on the 27th-28th.

Looking at the three monthly springtime picture (March 1 - May 31) the mean temperature figure of 44.3 F. (6.8 C.) compares with 48.4 F. (9.1 C.) last year and 49.7 F. (9.8 C.) in 2011. This year’s figure was the lowest since 1986, 43.9 F. (6.6 C.), but the coldest spring on my records was 1962, 42.8 F. (6 C.).

Interesting comparisons have been previously noted in my earlier columns with the springtime of 1947 and its comparable lateness of the seasonal course with the present one. However, with its mean temperature of 45.1 (7.2 C.) it is fractionally warmer than this year, mainly due to a steep temperature rise in May, with a heat-wave climax during the final week of that month, 82 F. (27.5) on the 29th and 30th. At the other end of the scale, the warmest springs are 1949 and 2007 both with 50.1 F. (10 C.), followed closely by 2003, 49.7 F. (9.8 C.). Record warmth in Aprils of both years boosted these figures.

The estimated mean daily cloud amounts for the entire period, March 1 - May 31 reflect a somewhat dismal picture for the season, with 29 completely sunless days, 14 of which occurred in March, 5 in April and 10 in May Only three days in May were recorded as almost cloudless, (less than one okta of the sky covered). Perhaps the only compensatory factor for the entire season concerned the total three month conservative figure for rainfall, 143.3 millimetres (5.73 inches) of which 65.5mm. (2.62 ins) was registered in May, being slightly above the long term average of 50 mm. (2 ins).

Last year’s spring rainfall amounted to 211.4 mm. (8.45 ins) largely due to a record wet April, but it did not beat the record figure of 233.3 mm (9.33 ins) in 2006. One of our driest springs occurred in 2011, with 53.2 mm. (2.12 ins).

PROSPECTS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD

The legacies of cold polar air-streams during the earlier weeks of springtime are still inclined to plague the effects on our weather. The establishment of recent high pressure over and around the British Isles has brought sunnier days but still with north-easterly winds of dry, polar origin. The coming week is expected to see a gradual erosion of the high pressure over the country, with Atlantic troughs combining with thundery low pressure over France, which will tend to create scattered thundery outbreaks.

Still a good deal of dry, warm and sunny weather in the first few days, but a tendency to become less settled later, with thundery outbreaks of rain moving in from the south and the west. Temperatures in warmer levels, 68 – 75 F. (20 – 24 C.). Cooler at times towards the coast with on-shore low cloud creeping across into the Vale of York in the early mornings.