Heatwave of the Century redux, August 2003


A colleague unkindly suggested that Gravesend is hardly the most attractively named town in Britain, and one suspects that its new found notoriety as the hottest place in the country will do little to enhance the local tourist industry. It is certainly not in the same class as some meteorological record-holders such as Sprinkling Tarn (wettest year), or Clawdd-newydd (deepest snow) or Winterbourne St Martin (most rain in a day). The weather observing site known as Gravesend is, in fact, badly named. It is located to the west of the town on the Broadness peninsula and on the southern shore of the river Thames, the local authority is Dartford, and the nearest town is Swanscombe. In short, it has precious little to do with Gravesend.


It may well be that Gravesend does not retain its meteorological fame for long. Of the 600 or so official weather stations dotted around the country, roughly 200 of them report daily; the remainder normally send in their data after the end of the month. There is, therefore, a strong possibility that Gravesends 38.1C was equalled or even exceeded last Sunday afternoon somewhere in Kent or Essex or Greater London. Met Office staff are already on the case, and they will conduct a calibration check on the maximum thermometers of any and all possible contenders before making their final pronouncement. We hope it wont be over-hyped.


Another aspect of the recent heatwave which has been discussed little in the media is its length. The temperature climbed above 32C somewhere in Britain on five days which equalled the hot spell of late-July and early-August 1995, and there were 13 consecutive days of 27C or more from August 2 to 14 and that is the longest such spell since August 1997. When compared with the infamous summer of 1976, though, this years hot weather has not lasted long at all. In that year the temperature exceeded 32C on 15 days in a row between June 23 and July 7.


The 35C threshold has been passed on three occasions this month, and that may increase to five when all the reports are in. During the last 100 years this figure has only been reached or exceeded in 1906, 1911, 1923, 1948, 1957, 1976, 1990 and 1995, and only in 1976 has it been achieved on as many as five days.


Philip Eden


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