“The drought of March hath pierced to the root” (Chaucer)
Recent warnings of drought conditions have been rather overshadowed by the persistent and often heavy rain we had in April. In East Cholderton we recorded 5.48 inches (about 139 mm) for the month, by far and away the highest April figure for the past 20 years and well over double the average for the month (2.6 inches). Measurable rain fell on all but 2 days between April 8th and the end of the month, and not just “sweet April showers”.
Unfortunately, on the principle of one swallow not making a summer, the heavy rain of April won’t by itself make up for the lack of it in the previous six months, and it is in these months that the rain most easily gets through to the aquifers deep underground. From October 2011 to March 2012 we recorded just over 11½ inches of rain against a recent average of 20 inches – February and March were particularly dry, with just over an inch between them – and a year earlier the situation had beenlittle better.
So we are now in the position of having had a great deal of surface water, by and large not very drinkable, and a shortage of good clean water in the aquifers from where the water companies want to extract it. At least we haven’t had a hosepipe ban yet. DJSW June 2012
2011 – mild, dull and mainly dry
Looking back on 2011, it seems as though summer missed us out entirely – a succession of cool unsettled days with just the occasional let-up to remind us of what we have missed. The only settled spell was back in April, when we least needed it: from 5th April to 5th May we recorded a bare 0.1 in (2.5mm) of rain – no April showers – and the temperature rose above 20°C on fourteen days, with the maximum (26.7°C or 80°F) on 23rd April. Throughout this period there were chill nights with at least two night frosts.
This lack of early rain extended back to the whole of the previous winter and the figures speak for themselves: in the key 6 months of October 2010 to March 2011, we recorded only just over 14.5 inches of rain compared with the average of about 20 inches. This had a marked effect on gardens and farms, as well as on our streams and rivers (at Waterloo Bridge, East Cholderton, the brook ran dry in early July and did not restart until 14th January).
In contrast, we recorded rain on 18 of August’s 31 days and a total of 5.06 inches for the month, the most in any August since 1992 (5.75 inches). Despite this, the yearly total of 28.64 inches was well below average for the second year running. The mild weather of autumn persisted right through to the end of the year, with barely a handful of frosts, and the temperature reached double figures on New Year’s Eve. DJSW Feb 2012
This year summer was in April !
Looking back on 2011, it seems as though summer missed us out entirely – a succession of cool, unsettled days with just the occasional let-up to remind us of what we have missed. The only settled spell was back in April, when we least needed it – from 5th April to 5th May there was a bare 0.1 inch (2.5mm) of rain – no April showers – and the temperature rose above 20ºC on 14 days, the maximum (26.7ºC, 80ºF) on the 23rd April. Throughout this period we had chill nights and at least 2 frosts.
This lack of early rain extended back to the whole of last winter and the figures speak for themselves. In the key 6 months of October 2010 to March 2011 we recorded only just over 14½ inches of rain compared with the average of about 20 inches. This has had a marked effect on gardens and farms, as well as on streams and rivers – at Waterloo Bridge in East Cholderton the Pillhill Brook ran dry in early June, with no sign of the water returning yet.
In complete contrast, there was rain on 18 of August’s 31 days and a total of 5.06 inches for the month, the most in any August since 1992 (5.75 inches). Not much of a summer ! DJSW Oct 2011
April 2011: the driest month for many years
Rainfall has been recorded in East Cholderton since 1990 and April 2011 has been the driest month in the whole of this time, with only 0.06 inch (under 1.5mm) of rain. Coincidentally the previous driest month was also an April, in 2007, but then April followed a wet March whereas this year there was under an inch in March, so there is already a considerable shortfall. Our stream is very likely to run dry later in the year and hose-pipe bans seem almost inevitable. Early May gave us two welcome nights of rain totalling over 1.2 inches, but this is unlikely to have much effect on an already low water-table: a lot more is needed.
April was also an abnormally warm month. On 12 days the maximum temperature topped 20ºC and on St George’s Day it reached 26.7ºC, exactly 80ºF. The warmth has noticeably brought on plants and flowers – roses are already in bloom – and our gardens must be at least a fortnight ahead of normal. DJSW May 2011
2010 - A dry year
2010 was a notably dry year with rainfall in all months being a good deal below average. Unusually, (despite its “fill-dyke” reputation) February was the wettest month but even this only produced a little over 3 inches, while from April to July there was not much over an inch of rain in any of these four months. The year’s total recorded in East Cholderton amounted to a little over 27 inches, just over ¾ of the average and lowest since 2005. The first frost of the winter came on the night of 16/17 October, enough to blacken the dahlias, and frost was recorded on 36 nights up to the end of December, the lowest temperature being – 9.4ºC on the night of 19/20 December. DJSW Mar 2011
The shortest day
My diary glibly tells me that the shortest day of the year is 21st December, which is true enough as far as it goes, but skates over the detail which becomes clear when you look at the times of sunrise and sunset. In fact the mornings follow a different pattern to the evenings at the winter solstice: in the morning, the time of sunrise is at its latest, 8.06 a.m. for about 9 days from 26 December to 5 January, while the time of sunset is at its earliest, 3.52 p.m. from 8 December to 17 December. So if you are an optimist, you can say that the evenings are already getting lighter well before the shortest day. And if you prefer pessimism, you can say that the mornings are still getting darker well after it. And you will both be right! DJSW Dec 2010
Very dry growing months for farms and gardens
Shortly after the last day of June the newspapers were full of warnings of imminent drought conditions, claiming that, to quote from one national daily, “Britain has experienced the driest first six months of the year for more than 80 years”. Not quite so round here, where the first six months of 2003, 2005 and 2006 all recorded a lower rainfall than the same period this year.
The big difference in 2010 is that, after above average rainfall in January, February and March, with 9.3 inches between them, the taps were turned off and the total for April, May and June was a bare 3.6 inches which is half the local average for these months. April in particular was a very dry month with no measurable rain falling for 20 consecutive days (4 to 23 April). May and June were nearly as dry.
These dry months were accompanied by frequent low night temperatures and it was not until the middle of May that slightly milder air came in. But these are the key growing months, so it is hardly surprising that gardens and farmland became parched, farm yields are low and our lawns have still not recovered. DJSW Sept 2010
Rain, frost and snow in 2009
This is being written while we are still in the grip of the severest winter weather for many years, but my report is confined to 2009. Total 2009 rainfall, at just over 35 inches - very close to the yearly average – masks considerable variations. Up to the end of September there was a good deal less than usual, despite a wet July, and it looked as though we might see the Pillhill Brook dry up at Waterloo Bridge over the winter. But in the last 3 months of the year we recorded 15.65 inches of rain, November (7.9 inches) being once again the wettest month, as it has been eight times in the past 20 years. Newspapers reported that nationally we suffered the wettest July for many years but here we got away with it lightly with just over 3 inches in the month, compared with nearly 5 inches in July 2008. The coldest night of 2009 was on 6 January at -7.5. Two inches of snow fell overnight 1/2 February : more fell the next day, to make about 4 inches in all, but most of this had thawed within the week. The last frost came in early spring, on 30th March, though there were two near misses on 27 and 28 April. The first frost of Autumn blackened our dahlias on 18 October: it then turned mild until 1 December when we woke to white lawns and roofs, and from 16th December to the end of the year there were frosts nearly every night, with an inch or so of snow overnight 21/22 December. DJSW Feb 2010.
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