1976 was a wonderful year, one of the best, with a phenomenal summer - the best (hottest, sunniest, and until 1995, driest) on record - and the Great Drought. Remember the Minister for Drought? Just look at that run of very dry months until the autumn. I was in the right place for a change - Southampton. The great summer really started in May. May and June had some hot spells, interspersed with cloudier, cooler periods. The height of the great summer was 22 June to 26 August; and the month from 22 June to 21 July had an average temperature of 20.9C. Somewhere in the country reached the 80s from 22 June to 16 July, and most extraordinarily of all, somewhere reached the 90s (32C) for 15 consecutive days from 23 June and 7 July (before or since there has been no such spell longer than give days over 90F in a row). Heathrow had 16 consecutive days over 30C between 23 June and 8 July, a record. The period September 1975 - August 1976 was the driest 12 month period on record. A Minister for Drought was appointed this year (Dennis Howel, MP, 1923-1998; soon after his appointment it started to rain, and he was known as "The Minister for Floods; and in the cold snowy winter of 1978-79 he was appointed "Minister for Snow"). The seeds of the great frought had been sown in 1975, and in fact the early 70s were extremely dry across England and Wales. Perhaps only the summer of 1540 was as good, but that was in the pre-instrumental period.

January. Very dry. Extreme gale at the start of the month on the 2nd, accompanied by very mild (14C) air (earlier in the day -12 was recorded in NE Scotland). A gust of nearly 105 mph was recorded atRAF Wittering, near Peterborough. Large areas of the north, north Wales, north midlands, and East Anglia reported gusts over 50mph. Widespread damage and deaths. A caravan site near Doncaster was destroyed. Some flooding on the North Sea coast: 4' of flood water in Mablethorpe and Sutton-on-Sea (Lincs.). A "black frost" at the end: from the 28-30th, polar continental air brought continual frost to much of southern England, but without any visible signs of white frost.

February. Very dry, but slightly milder than usual.

March. Generally very dry. It had a sunny start with some mild days and frost by night. It became more unsettled in the west midmonth, and very wet in the SW around there 22nd, when there was snow over Wales.

April. Mostly fine and sunny. It was very dry, especially in the south. Plymouth had only 4 mm of rain all month. The period May 1975 - April 1976 was the driest 12 month period on record. On the night of the 28th, the temperature fell to -8C at Carnwath (SW Scotland). There were a few unsettled days at the beginning, with some snow in the north on the 13th.

May. Overall warm. A taste of things to come: very warm early on. Heathrow and Ulcombe (Kent) reached 29C on the 7th, the highest May temperature since 1953, and the highest temperature recorded for the first week of May. There were some heavy thunderstorms also on the 7th. There were four successive days over 25C. The month was very dry in the south.

June. Phew, "what a scorcher." The hottest, most prolonged summer on record, peaking from the 22 June to 16 July. After a unremarkable beginning to the month, with some frontal activity, an anticyclone moved in and winds turned to the south. The temperature was in the 80s on the 7th and reached 31C in the SE on the 9th. It then turned cooler and more unsettled for 10 days before the high pressure returned. A warm front then moved north-east on the 21st, ushering in the extraordinary heat, as the Azores high built, and some very hot air swept across the country. The previous dry weather facilitated some very high temperatures. From 23 June to 7 July inclusive, for 15 consecutive days, the temperature exceeded 32C (nearly good old 90F) somewhere in the country. No previous heatwave (or indeed, any since) had seen more than five consecutive days over 90F. Furthermore, five days exceeded 35C (a temperature only recorded 7 other times in the 20th century). On the 26th, 35.4C was reached at North Heath (Sussex) and East Dereham (Norfolk) - the earliest date in the century on which 35C (95F) has been exceeded. Then there was a maximum of 35.6C at Mayflower Park in Southampton on the 28 June. This is the equal record high for June. It made 35.5C there the preceding day. Fortunately, I was there! I did a summer job in a factory, and the heat was stifling. Have you tried frying eggs on the pavement? (This is apocryphal. According to my copy of Mcgee's On Food and Cooking you need to reach 70C to cook egg white - and according to my weather newsgroup chums tarmac starts to melt at 50C! Stories abound about attempts to make it look like eggs are frying on pavements "assisted by" meths.) Southampton is favoured in hot spells with a NE breeze because it is sheltered from the wind. Please let's have another summer like this one ... The skies were largely cloud free, and the humidity was very low. Norther Ireland's record high of 30.8C at Knockarevan was set on the 30th. Needless to say, at the peak of the "Great Drought", it was very dry, although there was a prolonged downpour on the 19th (a Saturday) in the south of England (preventing play in the test match against the West Indies on the Saturday), as a waving cold front gave 25 mm of rain in places. The month overall was the warmest June of the century in England and Wales (16.5C CET). Of course, this must be the June month of the century for weather.

July. Wonderfully hot (18.2), particularly notable as part of the whole summer, as high pressure dominated the British Isles. It was even hot in Scotland; Wauchope (Borders) reached 32.4C on the 2nd. Even Braemar reached 30C on the 8th. 27C (80F) was exceeded somewhere in the country every day from 22 June to 16 July. Heathrow had 16 consecutive days above 31C between 23 June and 8 July. Somewhere in the country reached the 90s (32C) for 15 consecutive days from 23 June and 7 July. The summer was quite poor in the Western Isles, however, as fronts coming around the high affected the far NW. Cheltenham reached 35.9C on the 3rd, the highest corroborated maximum. Also very sunny: there was 318 hours of sunshine at Cromer. Fronts moved east on the 9th, bringing some rain to some places, and slightly cooler weather. While there were some high minima in urban districts, clear skies led to ground frosts in the country. It was also very dry; London saw a record drought of 38 days from 21 June to 27 August.

August. The month continued the great summer, ending with memorable thunderstorms from the 27th on. Maxima of around 30C in the south on the 24-25th, with some places hitting 32C. Many parts of the south recorded 330 hours sunshine; 333 hours at Ilfracombe. It was very dry, with England and Wales having only 29% of the average. An air minimum of -0.6C was reported at Great Gaddesden (Herts.) on the 1st, a consequence of intense night-time radiative cooling under clear skies. It was 32C in the south on the 25th, and Teignmouth enjoyed its 45th consecutive day without rain. Then the hot, sunny weather started to break down on the 26th - just in time for the Bank Holiday - as the high pressure system that had been responsible for the wonderful weather retreated towards Iceland, bringing a cooler and cloudier NE airflow across the country. For many places, the great drought ended on the 29th or 30th: in some areas there had been 45 consecutive days without rain. The wet autumn made up for it. There were some severe storms on Saturday 29th and Monday 30th in the south, with flooding in East Anglia. For example, there were 76 mm of rain at Spalding on the 30th, which was a good start to ending the drought. So bizarrely Bank holiday Monday (30th) in 1976 was cool, dull, and wet! With a CET of 17.6C, it was a hot month.

September. After the exceptionally dry summer, we had a very wet month. Some places in West Wales stayed dry until the 4th, having had no rain since July 16. The month had many wet spells, for which we were all truly grateful after the great drought. There was snow on the Grampians (down to about 500m) on the 9-10th. Then, on the 11th, a particularly wet day, 125 mm fell across northern England and north Wales, with a NE gale. Severe flooding in Stokesley (near Middlesborough). There was flooding in Glasgow as a result of thunderstorms on the 28th (84mm in 3.5 hours), and severe flooding in Cornwall on the night of the 24-25th: a man was swept away in Polperro. Most of the country had twice the average rainfall, with some parts of Wales, Yorkshire, and the Midlands having four times as much. Only September 1918 was wetter. It was a cloudy month.

October. Continued very wet after the great drought. Indeed, September and October 1976 combined were the wettest on record in England and Wales. The wettest October of the century for Northern Ireland. Very windy (90mph) in Edinburgh on the 6th. Dull on the east coast.

November. There was a severe gale on the 29th (with a gust of 115mph at The Needles). Near average temperatures overall.

December. The month had a stormy beginning. At 2.0C overall, this was the coldest December since 1962. It was a cold and unsettled month, but also with frost and fog. There was a minimum of -16C at Crawford John on the 3rd, followed by a maximum of only -3C at Abbotsinch. A slight sleet shower in London on Christmas Day meant that this was a technical "White Christmas".