March 2003 sunniest for 96 years


The first few days of April brought a brief interruption to the settled weather which has prevailed over most of Britain for almost four weeks, but after two changeable days high pressure has returned and so has the sunshine. After such a long fine spell it is easy to forget that March began with twelve days of very unsettled weather, with frequent rain, strong winds at times, and a marked shortage of sunshine. It was because of that disturbed start that last month failed to be a true record breaker.


The Central England Temperature (CET) for March was 7.6C which is 1.2 degC above the average for the standard reference period 1971-2000; in the last 100 years only ten Marches were warmer as measured by the CET, one had the same mean temperature, and 89 were colder. Of those ten warmer Marches, five occurred between 1903 and 1988 and five since 1989.


There were no exceptional individual temperatures, but a maximum of 21.1C was recorded at Kensington in west London on the 23rd, and this was the highest anywhere in the British Isles in March for four years. There were a number of sharp frosts during the third week, and 8.9C was reported from Altnaharra in Sutherland on the morning of the 18th.


Rainfall, averaged over England and Wales, was 36.7mm, some 44 per cent below the long-period mean. During the last 100 years, 21 Marches were drier (most recently in 2000) while 79 were wetter. In the main population centres in Scotland the total for March 2003 was 38.1mm which is 29 per cent below the normal amount, while the Northern Ireland total of 35.8mm was 37 per cent below. Large parts of the country had no measurable rain after the 11th, and in parts of eastern England including Lincoln, Peterborough and Southend, there was none after the 7th. Monthly rainfall totals ranged from 11mm at Lowestoft and Bridlington to 204mm at Capel Curig in Snowdonia.


Sunshine over England and Wales totalled 169.9 hours, 50 per cent above the long-term average and about the same as 1929, but we have to go back to 1907 to find a significantly sunnier one. The equivalent figure for Scotland's main population centres was 169 hours, a new record for March, and for Northern Ireland it was 165 hours, the highest there since 1929. Clacton topped the sunshine league with a total of 206 hours.


Philip Eden



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