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The Summer of 76

July 5, 2016

By Paul Homewood


h/t Stewgreen


Forty years ago, Britain was was basking in the hottest summer on record.




The Met Office have published this historical account:




1 July 2016 – 40 years ago this weekend temperatures peaked in one of the UK’s most memorable heat waves.

The spell of hot weather, from mid-June to the end of August included 15 consecutive days where a maximum temperature of 32C or more was recorded somewhere in the UK. It was one of the most prolonged heat waves within living memory.


1976 heatwave infographic 

The highest temperature recorded in June 1976 was 35.6 C in Southampton on the 28th. This record still stands. Whilst 35.9 C, recorded on 3rd in Cheltenham, was the highest July temperature.

However what really set the summer of ’76 apart was the drought. Below average rainfall was notable from May 1975 to August 1976 resulting in one of the most significant droughts of our climate records and making summer 1976 (June, July, August) the 2nd driest summer on record (dating back to 1910) behind 1995.


1975 Rainfall May to Aug 761976 Rainfall Sept to Oct lge 


Parts of the south west went 45 days without any rain in July and August. The hot, dry weather affected domestic water supplies leading to widespread water rationing; many still remember queuing for water at standpipes in the street. The National Water Council took out full page ads in newspapers on how to ‘beat the drought’ advising steps such as only taking a bath if absolutely necessary and using no more than five inches of water.

As crops failed and food prices subsequently increased, a Drought Act was passed by the government, a Minister for Drought appointed and plans to tanker water in from abroad were discussed. Heath and forest fires broke out in parts of southern England, with 50,000 trees being destroyed in Dorset alone.

So why was the weather so dry and hot? During the summer of 1976 the jet stream was further north than usual and there was often high pressure covering the British Isles, while pressure was below normal over much of the Arctic, the Azores, and eastern Europe. 

In June and July, both high pressure and southerly winds were more frequent than usual. August was generally the driest month of the summer, and was characterised by exceptionally dominant high pressure.

The drought broke in the last week of August with severe thunderstorms bringing rain to some places for the first time in weeks. September and October 1976 were both very wet months.

The 1975-76 drought was the most significant drought for at least the last 150 years in the UK, and is usually regarded as a ‘benchmark’ against which all other droughts are compared.



As well as being the hottest UK summer, based on maximum temperatures, 1976 was also the warmest in England in terms of mean temperatures.

A comparison with 2006, the last really hot summer in the UK, shows that daily highs in 1976 were consistently and substantially higher for most of the time from mid-June to the end of August, with the exception of the last two weeks of July.



  1. July 5, 2016 10:52 am

    Oh yes, I remember it well.

  2. July 5, 2016 11:11 am

    It’s interesting to see what constitutes a “heat wave” and a “drought”. If my temperature conversion is right, the temperature never went above 96 degrees F, which in much of the US is considered normal summer temperatures. 45 days without rain is a long time for an area that has as much rain as England, but elsewhere, it is quite normal. This points to humans adapting to the weather as it usually presents itself and being quite taken off guard when the weather is very different. Over the long term, they do adapt.

    Makes for an interesting history of weather lesson.

  3. Broadlands permalink
    July 5, 2016 1:29 pm

    The year 1921 was one of the warmest years on record in the US. But…outside the US in Europe there was a July “heat wave”. It was reported from various places as follows:

    Weather of 1921…press comments outside the US:

    BRITISH ISLES: London, July 10. England is sweltering and suffering the worst drought in a century. Today was the seventy-eighth virtually rainless day. For the third successive day temperatures have exceeded 100. The rainfall for the year is less than one-third normal to date.

    FRANCE: Paris July 12. The Senate yesterday… cancelled the usual July 14 military review in Longchamps owing to the extreme heat.

    GERMANY: Berlin, July 27. The potato crop has been the hardest hit of any in Germany by the prolonged dry weather..

    RUSSIA: July 17. Twenty million persons are on the verge of starvation in drought-stricken sections of Russia, subsisting mainly on moss, grass and the bark of trees, according to the Vossische Zeitung, which quotes information from “reliable Russian sources.” The parched earth, it is asserted, is opening up great crevices, and wells and rivers are drying up. Foliage is asserted to have withered on the trees, and a number of villages are reported on fire

    SWITZERLAND: Zermatt: July 26. The heat has not greatly abated. On the summit of the Wellenkuppe, above Zermatt, and 12,830 feet high, the temperature at 10 o’clock in the morning has exceeded 100°F., and this despite the summit’s being perpetually snow-clad… never do Alpinists remember such a variety of bright-colored butterflies in the high mountains as this year.

    ITALY: July 30. The principal phenomenon…was the intensely hot weather. An unprecedented heat wave continued to develop in its intensity of heat and in its length and duration.

    ITALY: Venice, July 30. The principal phenomena which prevailed [this week] was the intensely hot weather. An unprecedented heat wave continued to develop in its intensity of heat and in length of its duration. For several weeks the heat has increased until the past week the temperature has been up in the high nineties for day after day, and unofficial reports of over 100° have been frequent. The extremely high humidity has practically brought active business to a standstill, and has caused many deaths and heat exhaustions. The principal damage caused by the heat wave is the protracted period of drought which accompanies it. Agriculture is the chief sufferer from the heat and drought and no alleviation appears in sight. Weeks of cloudless scorching days have played havoc with the crops which were in progress when the heat wave began. from U.S. Consul at Venice.

  4. July 5, 2016 5:10 pm

    BBC recently covered this in an episode of “Countryfile”.

    • July 5, 2016 7:11 pm

      Almost no one watched that prog, cos althought it was scheduled for JUne 26th when I switched in on it had been replaced by another flaming unscheduled Brexit Post mortem prog. The repeat on 8.15am last week went ahead.

  5. July 5, 2016 7:12 pm

    More details are on that 76 episode page for Countryfile

    Compilation Weather : A look back at the long hot summer of 1976 with TV weatherman John Hammond.
    “The 16-month period from May 1975 to August 1976 is the longest dry spell ever recorded in Britain. The summer of 1976 witnessed soaring temperatures and almost no rainfall as the entire country sweltered under the heat. The situation was so bad that the government appointed a Cabinet Drought Committee, which advised that household consumption must be reduced by half. The drought eventually broke with rain in October.”

    ..Also remembering the harsh winter of 1947 +Restoring Dawlish seafront
    (Global warming is not mentioned on the page)

    Times 2016
    Exactly 40 years ago Britain was gripped by a record-breaking heatwave. The longest and most intense hot spell in the UK’s recorded history began on June 23, 1976, with highs of 32C for 15 successive days.
    People felt more like they were living in a Mediterranean climate that summer, with blue skies and blistering sunshine. Unusually for the UK, the entire country was affected. Sleeping at night was unbearable and about 400 spectators collapsed in temperatures of 38C at the Wimbledon tennis championship. Railway lines buckled and roads melted, with snowploughs used to spray sand on melting tar. Air-conditioning was…

    BBC4 archaeology prog now : “From 4016 BC The whole Climate in Egypt completely changed, the cities water dried up and became a dessert”

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