I am typing this column the day after Tuesday 19th July, which I have nicknamed ‘Warmageddon’. The country went into meltdown in more ways than one when temperatures across the UK hit unprecedented heights. They peaked at over 40°C for the first time since records began, with Coningsby in Lincolnshire recording the official top temperature of 40.3°C, almost 2°C higher than the previous record of 38.7 which was achieved in Cambridgeshire in July 2019.
Some schools and workplaces decided to close rather than force people to struggle in to sit in baking hot classes and offices, while many sports fixtures were postponed or cancelled. Even Aysgarth Falls on the River Ure decided to take a break from the heat, the normal torrent being reduced to a tiny trickle. We are assured though, that after a good downpour, the river and falls will quickly return to normal.
I walked the short distance from my mum’s house to the local shop, and by the time I got back, the soles of my flips flops were beginning to melt. It was no doubt due to the scorching pavement and I had to then spend several minutes plucking out stones that had become embedded in the softening rubber (Dog owners take note – imagine what happens to paw pads). I’d noticed the bitumen on the road had begun to melt too, the glistening black syrup seeping up through the gravelled surface.
I spent much of the day in the car and watched my dashboard with ever increasing astonishment as the reading crept higher and higher until it crested at a whopping 41°C. Never have I been so grateful to have a decent air-con system. As I drove, I listened to local radio, and the news was full of stories of how Warmageddon was bringing the country to its knees. Trains between York and London were halted for a number of heat-related reasons, including a fire at a crossing at Sandy in Bedfordshire.
The London Fire Brigade declared a major incident after blazes broke out in several parts of the city, and later described it as their busiest day since World War II. The threat of fire in North Yorkshire was categorised as ‘high to very high’, while some southern counties were classified as ‘extreme to very extreme’. Fire continues to be a very real threat to the tinder dry vegetation that is dying before our eyes. My lawn, if you can call it that anymore, is almost completely brown and feels like brittle straw beneath my feet (I will take a small positive from the situation though; the dry and the heat has knocked my bionic super-speedy growing grass for six so I might get away with not mowing it for another week. Every cloud…).
Those of us of a certain age cannot help but be reminded of the infamous Summer of ’76. That heatwave was positively arctic compared to this year, with temperatures peaking at a measly 35.9°C. What set it apart though, was the duration. A drought had already been declared from the previous September and we had had precious little rainfall by the time the warm weather arrived in May.
From then onwards, it was day after day of hot dry weather, and between 23rd June and 7th July the temperature surpassed 32°C for 15 straight days. The situation was so severe that in August the Government introduced the Drought Act, giving it the powers to ration water.
We will never forget the insect invasions either. I remember green clouds of aphids drifting through our village, followed a couple of days later by swarms of ladybirds which, unusually, bit you when they landed on you. I have learned that they did so simply as a way to try and survive, attempting to get any sustenance from whatever source was available.
The dry and heat persisted right through until September, when thunderstorms and rain finally brought the drought to an end .
So what would you rather have? Four months of hot, dry weather, not dissimilar to the kind of summer experienced by our Mediterranean friends? Or would you prefer the recent short, sharp burst of searing heat of the kind you might experience in the Tropics? And are either preferable to the rubbish rainy summers we are more used to?
I’m yet to make my mind up on that one.
Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug
This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 5th and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 3rd August 2022