The darling buds of May ... The merry month of May ...
May is one of my favourite months: the trees are coming into fresh leaf, the garden is really filling out by now, and with the long evenings one can often enjoy a pleasant (if usually chilly) evening drink in the garden. Occasionally winter can manage a late flourish, and a late frost can be particularly damaging to the garden. In May the dominant westerlies-soutwesterlies are at their weakest, and anticyclones are more likely in May than in any other month. Snow isn't rare in May in the north: on average you can expect some snow every year in Aberdeen, and every two years in Edinburgh, and even only every five to ten years in parts of the south.
The hottest day of the year occasionally falls in May (about 2% of the time: on three occasions since 1875). There are supposedly some indications that the periods 29 April to 16 May, and then 21-31 May tend to be fine. The 9-14th is Buchan's third cold spell. This cold spell holds up slightly better than other claimed periodicities. In this spell, the "Ice Saints" (St. Pancras, Servatius, and Mamertus) have their Saint Days on 12, 13, and 14, and were so called because they were associated with cold, even frosty weather.
May has shown some recent warming, although Mays between 1972 and 1988 tended to be cool. 1989 saw a turnaround for sunshine too, with the dulling trend of the twentieth century reversed after that date.
Extremes for May in the 20th century
Highest May average overall = 13.6 (1992)
Lowest May average overall = 8.9 (1902)
32.8 (1922, on the 22nd, in London; and 1944: on the 29th, also in London and the south east)
Lowest minimum = -9.4C (1941, on the 4th and 11th, at Lynford, Norfolk, and on the 15th, at Fort Augustus)
Some extreme weather events in May in the twentieth century
1900 Fine first half, cool second half.
1901 A relative humidity of only 9.5% at Parkstone (Dorset) on the 24th - the lowest reported in southern England since reliable records began in 1880.
1902 The coldest May this century (8.9C), with wintry showers and frosts. It got slightly warmer at the end of the month, with 24C recorded in Aberdeen on the 23rd.
1905 One of the driest of the century in England and Wales. Warm and sunny in the south for the first three weeks. There was then a cold spell, with northerly winds and frost, from the 20th-23rd.
1906 Cold and wet. Very wet in central Scotland. There were 65 mm of rain at North Shields on the 19th.
1907 Warm southerly winds gave high temperatures (28C) in the east on the 12th. A thunderstorm gave 29 mm of rain in 30 minutes at Southampton on the 13th. The winds then turned 180 degrees, to the north, and there were some sharp frosts in the third week. It was a very wet month everywhere.
1908 Dull first half, fine and sunny second half.
1909 Very sunny. The last "hot" (more than 27C) day of the summer until August was recorded on the 23 May. It was preceded however by a spell of northerly winds that brought snow and forst to many areas.
1910 Cold with rain and hail in the first half; the second half was mainly fine and warm.
1911 A warm month - the start of a famous summer - and also sunny and dry. There were some severe thunderstorms over England on the 31st, resulting in lightning strikes, wind damage, and local flooding. 17 people were killed around London alone. The most famous of these storms was when 3 people and 4 horses were killed in the "Derby Day Storm" at Epsom; 14 people were injured, and 3 hayricks were set on fire. The storm drifted south throughout the afternoon, hitting Epsom just after the Derby finished. 90 mm of rain fell in 2 hours at Barnstead, with violent lightning, and hailstones 50mm in diameter. In the centre of Epsom 72 mm of rain fell, most of it 50 minutes. The storm was at its worst 5-7 pm; between 5.30 and 5.45 pm, 159 flashes of lightning were counted - that's a flash every five or six seconds or so.
1912 Mild, dull, and dry except for parts of the north. 28C was exceeded at Greenwich on the 11th.
1913 Cold and unsettled. Over 50 mm of rain on the 8th and 9th in the NE of Britain near a slow-moving front with a depression to the SW; it gave 100mm in places. It was hot during the final week with S and SW winds, with some thunderstorms. On the 27th thunderstorms with damaging hail swept across the Midlands and East Anglia. 60mm hailstones in Castle Hedington (Essex) hurt people and killed rabbits.
1914 This month holds the record for the lowest May minimum in the last 10 days of the month: -7.2 at Braemar on the 25th. The first half of the month was cold and unsettled as a series of depressions crossed the UK. Early on the morning of the 2nd it was -4C at Worksop. Generally dry and cloudy, but with violent thunderstorms in London on the 7th and 22nd. There was a fine spell midmonth. Colder than average elsewhere apart from the east.
1915 An easterly or northeasterly, and windy month. There were some particularly strong winds and some heavy rain for the SE. 75 mm of rain fell in a thunderstorm near Kings Cross on the 6th. A cool month with some sharp frosts midmonth. 1918 Warm, with some severe thunderstorms. 30C at Reading on the 22nd, one of the earliest dates for such a high reading (although see April 1949). Most notable thunderstorms on the 17th; 50mm of rain in one hour around Wolverhampton, Stafford, and Lincoln. The most severe storm affected Bedfordshire, around Woburn and Ampthill, midafternoon. Eversholt suffered severe flooding. Lidlington recorded 82mm in three hours. Heavy hail, too: drifts 3' deep, remained in places for a couple of days. Water rushed down valleys, and parts of the wall of Woburn Park were washed away. More storms damaged crops in Lincoln. More storms on the 22nd; 66mm at Shifnal (Shrops.), and lightning damage to Leominster.
1917 Fine and warm, but with many thunderstorms.
1919 Very warm (13.5) and dry. There was only 6 mm of rain all month at Cambridge. 28C was exceeded at Kensington on the 23rd.
1920 A heavy rainfall event on the 29th over the Lincolnshire Wolds. The "Louth storm" was probably one of the most severe this century. A depression moved north across the country on the 29th, giving 82 mm of rain at Leyland, near Preston. A storm developed on the low's cold front. At Louth, near Lincoln, 36 mm of rain fell, and at Elkington Hall, three miles to the west, 117 mm fell in three hours. Probably even more rain fell to the west. As water fell on the Lincolnshire Wolds, the River Lud rose by 6' in 10 minutes, with flooding, destruction of bridges, small houses being swept away, and 22 people were drowned as a torrent 200 yards wide swept through the village of Louth, which formed a bottleneck at the river and its tributaries. The river rose to 15' above normal.
1921 Fairly warm and dry in the south. Showery at times with snow in the north at first. Some warm days with night frosts. 26C at Norwich on the 13th, and 27C at Weymouth on the 25th. It was sunnier than usual everywhere. There was a major geomagnetic storm 13-15th as a result of mass coronal ejection, sparking a number of fires across the world.
1922 A cool, showery start. There was then a fine spell from the 6th to the 8th, with 80F (27C) recorded in London on the 8th. It turned colder from the 10th. There was frost on the 13th in an unusually cold week midmonth; -4C was recorded at Benson (Oxford). There were 150mm of rain in Argyll 14-15th. The month ended with an exceptional hot spell in late May: 32.8C in London (Camden) on the 22nd, but the period 21-24th was generally very hot (Camden reaching 30.6, 32.8, 31.7, and 32.2 on these days). In fact this is the earliest date in the year on which that year's highest temperature was attained in this century, the earliest date which 90F has been reached, and the 22nd was the equal hottest May day of the century (with 1944). It is also one of those three occasions when the hottest day of the year was in May. The great heat was confined to East Anglia and the southeast of England. The heat led to violent thunderstorms on the 24-25th: large hailstones at Wensleydale; much glass broken at Tonbridge. At Tunbridge Wells the hailstones averaged the size of "pigeon eggs" and dented cars, smashed windows, and brought down tree branches. It was a very dry month in some places: only 11mm at Ross-on-Wye.
1923 A curious month; after a very warm start (28C at Norwich and London on the 4th and at Canterbury on the 5th) it turned out to be a very cold month, with snow midmonth. In the end it was the coldest May of the century in Scotland, and the second coldest in England and Wales.
1924 Changeable, and very thundery in the final two weeks. 123 mm of rain fell in 24 hours at Ludlow on the 31st.
1925 Hot spell midmonth. 27.8C recorded in London on the 16th.
1926 Unsettled, sunny, but cold. There was snow in Scotland and the north of England on the 14th, reaching as far as the Midlands, with heavy rain in the south.
1927 Dry and sunny. The second lowest May minimum (see 1941): -8.9C at Braemar on the 1st.
1928 Dry in the north and midlands. Sunny and warm in the first and last week, unsettled midmonth.
1929 Mainly unsettled, but warmer in the second half of the month. 28C was recorded at Kew on the 23rd.
1930 Wet in the SE. Quite dull in parts of England but sunny in western Scotland.
1931 A wet month. A spell of warm weather came to a violent end on the 27th, with severe thunderstorms. There was flooding in Cardiff when 106 mm of rain fell. At Watchett (Somerset) there were huge hailstones to watch cause damage.
1932 Another very wet, dull month, with severe flooding in the Midlands and North; Nottinghamshire and the Don Valley were particularly badly affected. It was the wettest May for 160 years in England and Wales. The first twn days were cold and frosty; it then became warm and thundery.
1933 Warm but cloudy.
1934 Mostly warm and sunny, particularly in the south, with a notable hot spell. Unsettled up to the 9th, then briefly ver warm. It was 28C at Farnborough on the 12th. It became much cooler on 13th as winds swung to the NW. The month was unsettled and windy in the north. Very dry in the south, wet in the NW of England.
1935 There was some notable wintry weather on the 17th (the Silver Jubilee of King George CV) - there were some severe frosts (-8.3C at Rickmansworth) followed by snow, obviously causing much damage to crops, especially in Bucks. and Herts. After a warm start to the month, a cold front moved south on the 16th. Snow fell over the Scotland and the north and west of England; 15 cm on high ground, 10 cm on the Wirral Peninsula, 12 cm in Harrogate and Tiverton, with 60 cm drifts in the Yorkshire Dales. Snow even fell at St Mary's in the Scilly Isles. The winds then changed from northerlies to a less cold easterly. A sunny month in SW Scotland. On the whole it was dry and sunny in parts of the east.
1936 Mostly warm sunny, and dry, with mainly easterly or southeasterly winds. It was 26C in places midmonth. There was a severe thunderstorm, with large hailstones, at Dunstable on the 6th.
1937 Dull and wet in the southeast and east, dru and sunny in Scotland, the NW of England, and Wales. Warm spell between the 23rd and 30th.
1938 Cool. There was a frost on the 8th.
1939 A very dry month. It was cool at the beginning and between the 12th and 20th, but there was a warm spell between the 7th and 11th; a man was killed by lightning in a thunderstorm at Edinburgh on the 7th. The last eight days were very sunny and warm.There were 132 hours of sunshine in the last ten days of the month in Torquay.
1940 Warm (12.5) and sunny.
1941 Very cold overall. The first ten days were dry and cold. The May record low of -9.4C was set at Lynford (Norfolk) on the 4th and incredibly, one week later, the 11th, at the same place. It was equalled on the 15th at Fort Augustus. These days fell in a sequence of 8 consecutive frosty nights, with destructive effects on plants. The last of 11 consecutive cold months. The end of the month saw milder weather reaching the north and west, but the south and east stayed cold. A dry month in the north and west.
1942 Fine, dry and sunny first nine days, but then generally wet and unsettled.
1943 A month of notable extremes. It was very unsettled, quite cool, and stormy at times. After a settled start, an exceptionally deep depression crossed Britain on the 9th with gales to the south and sleet or snow 8-10th as far south as Yorkshire. There were 15 cm of lying snow at Douglas on the Isle of Man on the 9th. Snow was reported as lying to sea level on the Isle of Skye. And then it was 30.0C at Bromley on the 14th. 75 mm of rain fell in 24 hours across the southwest. It was warm and sunny 14-20th. In Croydon the maximum on the 10th was 10.5; five days later it was 29.5C. Barometric extremes: 968 mbars in north Wales on the 8th, and 1042 mbars in Dublin on the 16th.
1944 It was very wet in the NW on the 1st, with Kinlochquoich receiving 115 mm of rain. A mixed month with a heatwave and two cold snaps. There were also some sharp frosts around the 7th. There was an extraodinary heatwave at the end of the month. 32.8C was widespread on the 29th in London and the southeast (London, Horsham, Tunbridge): it is also the hottest late spring Bank Holiday on record. This is one of those three occasions when the hottest day of the year was in May (with 1922 and 1965). It is also the joint record May maximum temperature. Hailstones as big as marbles fell in a storm at Bermondsey on the 29th. There was a devastating flash flood following a severe thunderstorm at Holmfirth (West Yorks.) on the 29th, with loss of life. The storm happened in the late afternoon, and gave intense rain, thunder and lightning, hail, and wind: rainfall was very localised, but Glossop saw 114 mm, mostly in two hours, although some places might have seen 150 mm. The 30th was also very hot. Benmore (Argyll) recorded 27.8C, as it did also on the 29th. It followed a very cold week midmonth, with frost, from the 14th-22nd.
1945 A warm but thundery month overall. There were some severe thunderstorms with large hail in the south Midlands on the 11th. Although the 11th was warm, the 12th was a particularly hot day - it reached 30.6C at Camden Square, the record earliest date at which 30C has been exceeded. 25C was reached across a widespread area, from Scotland to Cornwall. Particularly severe thunderstorms broke out later, particularly in the Midlands and central Scotland, where 20 mm of rain fell in 10 minutes at Boghall near Edinburgh. In many parts of the country 12 May was the hottest day of the year. Overall it was dry in parts of the east, although it was the wettest May for 20 years in Scotland.
1946 Generally cool and unsettled, with a bit of a SE/NW split. Sunny and dry in the NW: 258 hours of sunshine in the month on Anglesey and 329 hours at Tiree. In contrast Kew only had 172 hours of sunshine in the month. Rainfall was 75% above average in SE England but less than half in W Scotland. 24.4C was recorded at Kilmarnock on the 10th. There were some severe thunderstorms in south Yorkshire on the 20th.
1947 A heatwave began on the 29th and gave some of the highest May temperatures of the century (after 1922 and 1944). On the 29th, 31.7C around Lincoln (Waddington). On the 30th, 31.7 was recorded at Kensington, and many places were above 30. On the 31st, Camden Square reached 32.2, Mildenhall and Kensington Palace 31.7, and many places across the south and east reached over 30C. This is only one of five occasions 32C has been exceeded so early in the year in the century - another indication of what an extraordinary year this was. Overall the equal second warmest (with 1919) May this century, at 13.5C.
1948 Very variable: cold and unsettled at first, but a long warm and sunny spell in the middle, and then cold and frosty in the north at the end. On the 1st, hail lay 15 cm deep at White Waltham (Berks.). 27C recorded widely across the west on the 17th and 18th; cold air spread south on the 22nd, and there was a maximum of only 4C at Little Rissington (Gloucs.) on the 23rd. The fourteenth consecutive month above average temperature.
1949 Very sunny, particularly in the west. 289 hours of sunshine were recorded at Pembroke, and 277 at Blackpool. A dry month in NE England but wetter than average elsewhere.
1950 There were some violent thunderstorms, with large hail, in the Midlands. In particular there was a famous destructive tornado early on the warm Sunday morning of the 21st extending at least 66 miles, from Little London in Buckinghamshire to the Coveney in the Cambridgeshire Fens, with heavy rain and large hail. Many roofs and trees were damaged in Wendover. At Linslade (Bucks.), the dark column was reported as 50 yards wide in places, but just 5 yards in others. Trees were uprooted or had their tops twisted off, roofs were lost, vehicles were thrown in the air. A double decker bus was overturned in Ely. The tornado was preceded by very heavy rain and a violent thunderstorm. 56 mm of rain fell at Peterborough. This is the longest tornado trail on record in this country, and at 2.5 hours, the longest lasting recorded in Europe. At Coveney the tornado lifted to become a funnel cloud, where it was observed until Shipham in Norfolk. Three tornadoes were observed that day, in conditions that were very favourable to tornado development. Drier than average overall, sunny in the west and dull in the east.
1951 Cool, cloudy, and wet in England; sunny in Scotland, where it was dry from the 3rd to the 18th.
1952 Very warm (13.4C CET): the warmest of the century up to that point. 29C recorded in London on the 19th. There were also severe thunderstorms on the 19th, with hail and flooding. 83 mm of rain in 75 minutes at New Maldon, and 73 mm of rain at Wokingham. A small storm at Honiton deposited 1 cm hailstones down the valley of the Umborne Brook, and 65 mm of rain in 50 minutes washed off topsoil and damaged walls. A tornado at Tibshelf (Derbys.) caused damage and hurt one person. The tornado caused damage along a two mile course. High pressure returned on the 20th. There were some frosts at the end of the month. A very dry month in the southeast.
1953 Sunny in the SE and East Anglia. There was some fine, sunny weather in the first half of the month. It turned colder for a while before SW winds in midmonth. It then became very hot. This month saw the last time 30C was exceeded in May (before 2005): 31.7C at Heathrow and Farnham on the 25th. Some notable thunderstorms. Nearly 45 mm of rain fell at Worthing on the 1st.
1954 A wet start, but then there was a hot, sunny spell in the second week before it turned cooler again. It was warm at the end, with 28C reached in places on the 28th.
1955 Gales in a prolonged dry spell caused much soil erosion in the Fens, producing almost a sandstorm effect on the 4th. This type of wind is apparently called, according to Philip Eden, a "Fen blows". 48 hours of a SW gale, averaging 40 mph and gusting to 65 mph, blew the dry soil around, reducing visibility to less than 300 metres, with the dust storm rising 50 metres above Mildenhall. It was worst in east Cambridgeshire, and was particularly bad at Manea (Cambs.). Everything became choked with fine soil. It was then cold and wet. The wettest May in the Hastings region since 1875. 115 mm of rain in Londonn in the month. Most notable for a late cold snap. There was a notable cold snap with northerly winds 10th to 21st. The cold air moved south on the 10th. Snow and sleet showers on the 14th. Early on the 16th the minimum was -6C at Dalwhinnie and -4 at Lincoln. The 17th was the most notable day, as a depression moved east over the south. Rain turned to snow in the NE airflow as the arctic air returned. There was a maximum of only 5C in the south Midlands on the 17th. Widespread snowfall over southern England on the 17th, with a gale. Birmingham had its worst May snowstorm for 60 years. Even London had three hours of snow in the night, although it didn't settle. There was however an inch over the Cotswold and Chilterns, and four inches in parts of Yorkshire. This was the last time this century there was a substantial snowfall in May in the London area. During this cold spell Glenlivet and lying snow on six mornings. The frosts ended on the 22nd. A thundery month.
1956 The driest May for England and Wales on record. There was virtually no rain anywhere between the 10th and 28th,
1957 A cool but sunny month, and dry in the east. Light snow and sleet were reported as falling in the southeast on the 5th and 6th. Most of the rain in the month fell in a changeable period between the 7th and 20th.
1958 Warm, dry, and sunny first half, wet and unsettled from the 19th.
1959 A glorious extended summer began on the 5th. The second week was particularly warm. It was hot and sunny at the end of the month, particularly in Scotland.
1960 Started cold, but warm weather spread south. On the 2nd it was only 6C in London but 16C in Edinburgh. A warm spell followed.
1961 Most of the month's rain fell in the first nine days; the rest of the month was dry and sunny, particularly in the south. There were some damaging frosts at the end of the month.
1962 Quite cold overall. Dull and cool in the SE, but sunnier in the NW. The first few days were quite warm, but then it turned cold after thundery showers on the 10th. There was a gust of 100 mph at Benbecula (Outer Hebrides) on the 16th during an exceptional late gale. The end of the month saw the start of a series of 11 consecutive air frosts at Santon Downham (Norfolk), between 29 May and 8 June.
1963 Slightly cooler than average.
1964 Warm (13.3C CET), with some notable thunderstorms.
1965 The month had changeable westerlies until the 9th. It then became very warm and sunny. Many parts of the country had the warmest day of the year on the 13th or 14th: it was 29C in London (Kensington) on the 14th (the warmest day of the year - the most recently this has happened in May, and the earliest date in the twentieth century for the hottest day of the year). Then on the 28th the midday temperature was only 8C.
1966 Very warm and sunny at the start (27C in the SE on the 2nd), but the rest of the month was changeable westerlies.
1967 The wettest of the century in England and Wales, with an average of 141 mm. It was also one of the most thundery months on record: thunder was heard on 16 days at West Raynham (Norfolk). The May Bank holiday was very wet.
1968 A very cold month (9.8C) overall; to add to the misery, it was dull and wet as well. There was snow as far south as the Midlands on the 18th. It only started to warm up on the 27th.
1969 An unsettled month: dull, wet, and thundery. It was very wet in eastern Scotland. Very thundery in the south, with many heavy downpours and notable thunderstorms, particularly in the final week. Hail lay 5 cm deep after a storm at Quainton (Bucks.) on the 16th. There were 27 mm of rain fell in 35 minutes at Knotty Ash on the 24th. 60 mm fell in 2 hours near Crewe on the 30th. Edgbaston had 11 days of thunder in total this month. A sad event happened this month: the station at Camden Square - which had seen some famous weather events across the years - was closed.
1970 Very warm (13.0) and largely dry. There were many lightning casualties early in the month in thunderstorms. 26C was widely reached on the 5th. Just 4mm of rain fell at Lincoln and Rochdale all month, and 8 mm at Barnsley.
1971 A very sunny month.
1972 Slightly cooler than average. Most unusually, the temperature failed to reach 70F (21C) anywhere in Britain this month. Wet.
1973 Dull, unsettled, and thundery. There were some warm days midmonth. Very close to the average temperature (11.4) overall. There were some heavy snow showers on the 1st in NE Scotland. There were some heavy thunderstorms in the SE on the 3rd, and again at the end of the month.
1974 It was -5C at Stratford on the morning of the 8th. On the 26th the lack of any wind at sea led to the abandonment of serious yacht racing at Whitstable.
1975 Dry but cold (9.9C). After an unsettled first two days, it was a predominately easterly month with some northerlies led to very high sunshine totals in western Scotland - e.g. 329.2 hours on Tiree in the Inner Hebrides, making it Scotland's sunniest month ever. It was very dry in the west. Much wetter and duller in the east. The coldest May since 1941in the south, with some damaging frosts. The temperature of -5.1C at Carnwath, Lanark, on the 31st, is a record low for this time of year.
1976 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.
1977 Overall, slightly cooler than average. Very sunny in the west: an average of over 9 hours a day from West Wales to Ayrshire. 306 hours of sunshine recorded at Anglesey. The month ended with a fine, warm spell. 28C was recorded on the 27th in western Scotland.
1978 A low of -7.0C on the 9th, at Tummel Bridge, near Pitlochry; yet in the afternoon it was 22.0C, a range of 29.0C, the highest temperature range recorded in Britain.
1979 A cool, very wet month overall, with frequent northerly winds. Rainfall over England and Wales averaged 119 mm. There was a maximum of only 4C on the 1st in the Midlands. Then there was a low of -7.0 C on the 4th, at Eskdalemuir. There were some impressive snow showers at the start of the month: nearly a foot on Dartmoor and parts of Wales. However, 28C was reached in London on the 14th.
1980 An average month in many respects covering some interesting extremes. It had a dull beginning and end, yet the period 9-19th was virtually cloudless across much of the country. Humidity of only 8% at Glasgow on the 17th. Prestwick had its sunniest May on record. the overall CET temperature however worked out to be almost exactly average.
1981 A cold start with some frost and even snow showers at the start of the month. It became warmer in the second week, reaching the mid 20s by the 11th.
1982 Again, snow showers at the start of the month. Overall though it was slightly warmer than average.
1983 Cool, dull, and very wet (England and Wales averaged 115 mm). An extremely thundery month. 20.3C was recorded at Weymouth on 25 May - notable for being the latest date on which 20C has been reached.
1984 Cool overall. There was a marked contrast between a fine, sunny, dry May in western Scotland, and a wet, cloudy one in south-eastern England. 131 mm of rain at Romsey (Hants.). It rained all over the Bank Holiday weekend (25-28th) in the southeast, with no sunshine over all three days, and temperatures beneath 10C, and rainfall on 66 out of 72 possible hours in the north London area.
1985 Unsettled: dull and wet in the east, with heavy rain at times elsewhere. Thunder. Thunderstorms led to lightning strikes, flooding, and hail damage. There were some notable hailstorms in Suffolk and Essex on the 26th. The "Dunmow hailstorm" was particularly damaging; the sky was reported as turning green, hailstones up to 65 mm fell, and nearly 32 mm of rain fell in half an hour midafternoon.
1986 Very wet in the northwest.
1987 A cool month. Because April was so warm, this is the only time this century that May has been colder than April.
1988 Thunderstorms on the 8th led to widespread flooding on the morning of the 9th in west London. 89mm rain at Ruislip; 25mm in 25 minutes in one storm. In Coventry (where I was) this was the first May without frost since 1970.
1989 Very dry, very sunny, and very warm (13.0C CET). Over 300 hours of sunshine was widely recorded for the first time since 1909. There was no rain at all in some parts of London, yet 83 mm fell in two hours in a multi-cellular thunderstorm in Halifax on the 19th; and approximately 193.2 mm at Walshaw Den Lodge near Hebden Bridge, in 2 hours. This is the record daily rainfall for May, and the most intense 2 hour rainfall recorded in Britain. It is known as the "Halifax Storm". It was associated with high pressure but air being forced up the Pennines associated with an old cold front. It was hot to the south of the front, and cool to the north (-2C that morning in NE Scotland). A SE breeze pushed hot air into the frontal zone and up the mountains The downpour started about 4pm. Obviously the flash-flooding led to damage, carrying trees and destroying small footbridges. Less than five kilometres away only 7 mm of rain fell. There was a notable dust devil at Hurst Green (Surrey) on the 9th. It reached 27C on Skye on the 21st. It was very hot on the 23rd, with 29.4C being reached at Heathrow, and then there were some severe thunderstorms in the Midlands on the 24th, with 29.9C reported at March (Cambridgeshire). It was on average the driest May of the century over England and Wales.
1990 Very warm (12.6), dry, and sunny. There was a notable heatwave in the first week, which started on April 29th. The highest temperature was 28.6 at Worcester on the 3rd, but perhaps most noticeably, Glenlivet reached 28C on the 2nd. 26C was widespread on the 3rd. 25C was exceeded every day from 30 April to 6 May, and 28C was reached on the 2, 3 and 4th. The hot spell ended on the 6th. It was a component of a magnificent spring: the driest since 1893, and the sunniest since records began. The hot spell also included the first decent May Bank Holiday since it was introduced in 1979. There was only 1 mm of rain in parts of NW London all month.
1991 Dull but very dry: the dullest May of the century in the east, due to a preponderance of north-easterlies. Only 1 mm of rain in Cornwall.
1992 The warmest May of the century (13.6) and the warmest since 1833. Sunny, but with violent thunderstorms at the end. 29C in Edinburgh on the 14th. Torrential rain in the Bristol area on the 23rd; about 24.3mm in an hour and a quarter, 17.5mm in just 10 minutes, with large joined hailstones (each piece about 9mm in diameter), and flooding in the Bath area. Large hailstones caused widespread crop damage in west Essex on the 26th. 100m of rain in parts, with severe flooding in Chorleywood and Rickmansworth, with landslips. A warm and thundery late spring Bank Holiday at the end: 27.0C at Southampton on the Saturday, 27.3C at Heathrow on the Sunday, and cumulating in 28.2C at Norwich on the Monday. This gets my vote as the most interesting May for weather of the century.
1993 Unusually easterly month; locally very wet, particularly central Scotland. Snowstorm acrosss northern England and southern Scotland 13-15th: 79mm fell in Edinburgh.
1994 Dull and wet in the south, but dry and sunny in the north. Cooler than average. It was -6C at Altnaharra on the morning of the 20th.
1995 Dry and sunny. Notable heatwave in the first week, bettered only by May 1990. 26C in West Yorkshire on the 3rd, 28C in the Channel Islands (St. Helier) on the 5th and Southampton on the 6th. 27C was reached somewhere in the south every day 4-7th. As there was little wind pollution levels were high, although in some places there were 120 hours of sunshine in the first ten days. Temperatures were 12C lower on the VE celebration Bank Holiday Monday on the 8th. The remainder of the month was dull, quite cold, and with frosts midmonth in the north. The 17th was very wet over England and Wales, with some snow in some areas (Shropshire, Durham) as temperatures only reached 5C. Thunderstorm in Leeds on the 24th contributed to the deaths of1 2 people when an aircraft landed shortly after takeoff. Frost and snow in the second week.
1996 Unusually cold (CET 9.1) - only 1902 was significantly colder. On the 18th the maximum in Bournemouth was only 7C. 20C was only reached for the first time in the month anywhere in the country on the 29th. Quite dry first half, but generally wet, particularly in the south.
1997 Sunny and warm; generally an anticyclonic month; very wet in eastern Scotland (the wettest since 1969 in Aberdeen). A warm spell at the beginning and then a cold snap straight aftr. 27C was recoded on the 2nd and 26C on the 3rd in London; it even reached 24C in Edinburgh and 23C in Aviemore. Cold arctic air then plunged south following a cold front on Bank Holiday Monday (5th), as temperatures fell from 27C early in the month to about 10 on the 6th. -4.1C at Benson (Oxon). There was then a notable snowfall in the north on the 6th, particularly affecting north Wales, but with some snow as far south as Derbyshire, with even Bewdley (Worcs) seeing an hour or so of snow. North Wales was covered with snow: the Vale of Clywd was particularly badly hit, with up to 15 cm in places. Schools were shut, and traffic disrupted as the A55 was affected. London has 12mm of rain on the 6th, more than in March and April combined. Very thundery from the 4th-21st. 9 thunder days at Cosby (Leics.). Many storms had hail, squally winds, and there were several minor tornadoes. The first batch of storms fell mainly between the 7-13th. A storm system came north from France during the evening and night of the 16th with warm, humid air. On the 17th it was 27C in London, and there were meany violent thunderstorms in the south. Large hail in Oxford and Bucks; flooding in Bristol and Bath. The storms moved to the Midlands and north on the 18th. The storms were notable for the large area covered by very large (>20 mm) hailstones.
1998 Very warm (13.1). Night-time minima were particularly high, with a notable warm spell from the 8th to the 20th where 24C was exceeded somewhere in Britain. 28.6 in Southampton on the 13th. Very dry (average England and Wales rainfall, only 25% of average). The warmest on record in the Southampton region. Cool start and end.
1999 A very warm month, but dull in places. The warmth was due to persistent southerly winds leading to the absence of any cold days rather than any outstanding heatwave. For example, in London there was no day with a maximum beneath 15C. Three very warm spells (1-3rd, 19-20th, 27th to the end). The early May Bank Holiday was introduced in 1978, and this year saw the warmest before 2018, with 23.6C recorded.Southampton reached 27C on the 29th. There were frequent thunderstorms throughout the month, with severe outbreaks on the 19th, 27th, and 29th. Hail 25mm in diameter was reported at Wigan on the 10th, and "golfball-sized hail" was reported from Hampshire on the 19th. The storms on the 27th were particularly notable. Vernham Dean (Hants.) reported 17.3m of rain in 15 minutes, much of it as 10 mm hailstones.
2000 Warm and generally very dry first half and then very wet and cool second half. The wettest May since 1994 (82.5 mm), but particularly wet in the SE and dry in the W and N. A thunderstorm dumped 66 mm of rain in one hour on Bracknell on the afternoon of the 7th; there were also 15 mm hailstones. The rainfall rate was probably higher in surrounding locations (the hour rainfall record rate for the Uk was 92 mm at Maidenhead in July 1901). It was reported that the sound of the thunder was drowned out by the noise of the hail. The late spring Bank Holiday was very miserable in the south, with 100 mm of rain at Clacton, and flooding in East Anglia. In contrast, it was very sunny in the NW; Tiree had 318 hours of sunshine, the most since 1975. The SW was the dullest part of the country. The month as a whole was slightly warmer than average, thanks to a very warm first half. Hottest day was the 14th (28C in London).
2001 Warm and sunny. It was the sunniest May since 1997, and the warmest since the exceptional 1999. It was also a dry month, with only 57% of normal - making it the first drier than average month in nine months; we have to go back to 1991 for a significantly drier May. It was very dry and warm in east Scotland. There was a dry anticyclonic spell in the north at the start. Severe thunderstorms crossed the south and Midlands on the 9-10th, with lightning strikes and travel chaos. Temperatures rose after this. 27C at Northolt on the 11th and Southampton on the 12th, and 28C at Rickmansworth. The 17th was very cold, with a maximum of only 4.3 at High Wycombe. There was another warm spell at the end, with 25C in London on the 28th. The 27-28th were unusually humid, hot days. The minimum on the 28th at Norwich was 17C (the highest May minimum since 1945).
2002 Changeable and very wet (but not as wet as 2000), with the second half being particularly wet. The first eleven days saw fairly settled if unexcitig conditions. There was a short heatwave midmonth. On the 16th, it reached 27C at Kensington in London, while it reached 28.5C at St Helier on Jersey. The night of the 16th-17th was exceptionally warm in the west; at Llanbedr the overnight minimum was 18.6C. Dawlish had 51 mm of rain in 24 hours on the 17th. There was a gale in the south and west on the 24th. The west was wettest; Shap saw 270 mm of rain. It was slightly warmer than average overall, and very slightly less sunny.
2003 A changeable month. A warm beginning, cool middle, and hot end, with some heavy rain, particularly in the west. Overall slightly warmer than usual. Severe thunderstorms in the Berkshire area on the 13th, with 1.6 cm hailstones. There were some damaging frosts midmonth: -4.3C at Loch Glascarnoch on the 16th. There was a heatwave at the end of the month, with 29C at St Helier (Jersey) on the 29th, and 29.1C in London on the 31st - the highest May maximum in the London region since 1953. There was a severe thunderstorm around Selkirk in the Borders on the 30th, leading to serious flooding. The England and Wales average rainfall was nearly 20% above normal, although Capel Curig (Snowdonia) saw 262 mm, but parts of the Isle of Wight only 25 mm. A sunny beginning and end of the month cancelled out the dull middle.
2004 Overall quite dry, warm, and sunny after an unsettled start. The deepest May depression for over 60 years (since 1943) crossed the country on the 4-5th, with a low of 971 mbars. A warm spell midmonth, unusual in that the warm air comes down from the north, from Scandinavia, leading to 20.6C at Altnaharra on the 9th, 24.3C at Peebles on the 10th, and 20.3C at Baltasound, Unst, Shetland, on the 8th, a new record for Shetland for the first half of May. Much of the rest of the month was anticyclonic. The highest temperatures came on the 17th and 19th in the London area, with 25C. Along with some warm days there were some cool nights: - it was -4C at Kinbrace (Sutherland) on the 27th. Many places in the southwest saw no rain between the 6th and 27th inclusive.
2005 Fairly average in the south, and quite dry; wetter and cooler in the north. "Average" meant the coolest May for nine years. The night of 30 April - 1 May was the warmest so early in the year since 1945, with some minima in the south of 14C. In contrast, there were some air frosts across the country in the second and third weeks. This was the first time the south has seen a May frost since 1996. On the morning of the 18th it was -6.3C at Tulloch Bridge - the lowest May temperature since 1982. It was the lowest May temperature in the second half of the month since 1956. There were also some light snow showers in the north. The weather changed dramatically on the 19th as Atlantic fronts returned. There was a short-lived heatwave at the end of the month: it was 31.4C in Herne Bay on the 27th (and an unofficial 31.9C in London), the hottest May day since 1953 (although 1989 came close). Meanwhile in the north we shivered, with much of Scotland under 10C - the extreme heat was confined to the southeast and east. Hence London was 21C warmer than Edinburgh - an amazing contrast.
2006 Overall the warmest May for five years. Another month of contrasting halves. The first half was dry, warm, and sunny - indeed the sunniest first half since May 1945. The second half was very wet - the wettest second half of May since 1979. It took until the 3rd for the temperature to reach 20C somewhere in Britain for the first time in the year - the latest since 1983. On the 4th it reached 27.7 at Northolt (London), the earliest 80F has been exceeded since 1995, and the highest temperature of the month. The mini heatwave was accompanied by some spectacular thunderstorms, particularly in western and central Scotland on the 4th. The temperature fell to -5.9C at Kinbrace (Sutherland) on the night of the 13-14th. Overall it was very wet, with 115 mm, 85% above average in England and Wales. It was particularly wet in west Wales and relatively dry in the far north. It was quite dull in the east and south.
2007 One of the wettest on records in many places in the south. Temperatures overall were slightly above average, but in some places (e.g. here, East Scotland) May was cooler than April, and in many places maxima in May were lower than maxima in April (for the first time since 1987). The month was saved by many mild nights. The highest temperature of the month was 25.7C at Heathrow on the 24th; the lowest -5.7C at Kinbrace (Sutherland) on the 27th. It was the wettest May since 1967, and the fourth wettest on record, with an England and Wale average total 121 mm, nearly twice as much as average. Sunny in the north and west but dull in the east, where it was the dullest since 1991, so it was less sunny than April; the England and Wales average was 215 hours. The dry weather of March and April continued into the start of the month: some parts of east Kent had 38 consecutive days without rain up to the 5th. Parts of Shropshire had 79 mm of rain on the 13th. The late May Bank Holiday was terrible - cold and wet. The 28th was the coldest day so late in May since 1948: the maximum was only 6.4C at Whipsnade, with very strong northerly winds. Around 100 mm of rain fell at Luton in 48 hours.
2008 Warm everywhere; very dry in the north. Overall the CET was similar to that of the hottest in recent history, 1992. The first half of the month was very warm and sunny in the south, but then it became wetter and more unsettled, particularly in the south. However, it remained dry in the north, so for many parts of Scotland it was the driest on record. There was just 7 mm of rain at Lerwick and Fair Isle. Princetwon (Devon) in contrast saw 178 mm, most of it falling in the last week. Heavy rainfall in the SW on the 29th led to flooding in parts of Somerset, around Crewkerne and Bruton; 75 mm of rain fell in four hours. The highest temperature of the month was 27.%C at Malvern on the 11th, and the lowest minimum -6.2C at Kinbrace (Sutherland) on the 19th. The maximum at Carter Bar (in the Borders) on the 17th was just 8.2C. There were a record-breaking 303 hours of sunshine at Fair Isle.
2009 Slightly warmer than average, mainly because of a sunny, dry warm spell in the final week. The highest temperature of the month was 26.9C at Lee-on-Solent on the 31st, with the lowest -4.7C at Kinbrace on the morning of the 11th. The maximum at Braemar on the 15th was 7.6C. It was very slightly drier than average over England and Wales, but wetter than average across Northern Ireland and Scotland. It was the sunniest May for 8 years.
2010 A cool month - the coldest since 1996. An anticyclonic month, with a cold first three weeks, with cold northerly winds, but warming up from the 19th. The highest temperature of the month was 28.8C at Heathrow on the 24th; the lowest minimum was -6.0C at Braemar (8th( and Altnaharra (12). It was a dry month, with an E&W average of 39.7 mm, 64% average, the driest since 2001. It was also drier than average across Scotland and Northern Ireland. Bridlington had just 8.1 mm. It was slightly sunnier than average (219 hours in E&W, 108%); the sunniest place was Anglesey, with 272 hours.
2011 Wet in the north and west and very dry in the southeast. The fourth most southwesterly month in well over a hundred years of records. Although it was warmer than average by 1.1C or so, in parts of the south and east April was warmer than May. The highest temperature of the month was 25.4C at Weybourne on the 7th, the lowest -6.3C at Altnaharra on the 4th. Rainfall averaged over England and Wales was 49 mm, 80% of the 71-00 average. It was very wet in Scotland (187mm). Cluanie in Wester Ross had 468 mm, Manston (Kent) just 4 mm.It was slightly sunnier than average (107%); Manston again saw 273 hours. There was a destructive and unusually late gale across from eastern and central Scotland to northern England on Monday 23 May. Trees were particularly affected because they were largely in full leave. The Forth Bridge was closed, there were widespread power cuts, and two people died. A gust of 81 mph was recorded at Inverbervie in NE Scotland, although gusts over 100 were reported at some exposed mountainous sites. This was the worst May gale since 1962.
2012 Overall a fairly average month. However, the first three weeks were very cold, changeable, and dull (particularly in the SE), but the month was saved by a fine, sunny, and very warm final week. The highest temperature of the month was 30.9C at Inverailort (Highland) on the 25th (a new record maximum for Scotland in May); it was also 29.3 at Achnagart (Highland) and 29.0C at Cromdale (Morayshire) on the 27th. The lowest -6.2C at Saughall (Ayshire) on the 5th. Rainfall over England and Wales averaged 58.8mm (0-%). England and Wales sunshine averaged 209 hours, 103% of the long-range (1981-2010) mean, the dullest since 2005. The sunniest place to be was Tiree in the Inner Hebrides, which saw 273 hours.
2013 Cold; the coldest since 1996. After a dry and sunny and fairly warm first week it was mostly a northerly month. The warmest day of the month was the 7th, with 23.7C recorded at Crosby (Merseyside), and the coldest night the 1-2, with 4.8C at Tulloch Bridge It was somewhat wetter than average, with 75.0 mm of rain On the 14th, 72.3 mm fell at Pembrey Sands (Carmathenshire). Sunshine totals were about average.
2014 Slightly warmer than average but also wet. Rainfall averaged 156% (102 mm), making it the wettest May since 2007. The wettest day was the 10th with 57.5 mm falling at Capel Curig in Snowdonia. The third week was relatively dry. The highest temperature of the month being 26.2 at Heathrow on the 19th. The lowest was -5.0C at Cromdale (Morayshire) on the morning 2nd. The maximum at Carter Bar on the 1st was only 4.5C. It was slightly less sunny than average.
2015 Quite cool and wet. Daytime temperatures were particularly low, the lowest since 1996, with nowhere exceeding 24C all month long. The highest temperature of the month was 23.8C at Faversham (Kent) on the 11th, and the lowest was -5.6C at Tulloch Bridge on the 1st. Rainfall was 156% of average. It was particularly wet in the west and north.
2016 After an unsettled start the rest of the month was largely anticyclonic, with winds generally from the easterly direction, making it particularly warm and sunny in the west, and cooler and cloudier in the east. There was a more unsettled spell midmonth. It was warmer than average, with near average rainfall (92%). Overall sunshine was 115% of average. The highest temperature of the month was 27.7C at Plockton (Ross and Cromarty) on the 9th, and the lowest -5.7C at Tulloch Bridge (Invernessshire) on the 14th.
2017 The first ten days were anticyclonic with easterly winds, and the widespread drought continued. Thereafter it was much more unsettled with rain, bringing the drought to the end. There was a short hot sunny spell 24-26th, followed by a thundery breakdown. The month overall was very warm; nationally the second warmest May since 1910 (after 2008). It was particularly warm in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Rainfall was above average in the SE but lower in the rest of the country (83% overall). It was a sunny month (115%), particularly in the north and west. Northern Ireland was the sunniest region of the UK with an average of 253.2 hours (147%). The highest temperature of the month was 29.4C at Lossiemouth (Morayshire) on the 26th, and the lowest -5.1C at Shap (Cumbria) on the 9th. The wettest day was the 16th, when 66.0 mm of rain fell at Capel Curig (Conwy).
2018 A very warm month across the country, being the equal second warmest on record. The mean maximum temperature for the UK as a whole was the highest on record (from 1910). It was the sunniest May on record across the UK (132%). It was particularly sunny in northern England and parts of Scotland, and apart from west and south Cornwall. An early heatwave in the south and easts gave rise to the warmest Early May Bank Holiday on record (it was introduced in 1978), beating 1999, with 28.0 C in central London (St James Park) and 28.7 C at London Northolt. High pressure generally ruled throughout the month, with winds mostly from an easterly direction, so some haar along east coast. The last few days saw thunderstorms, some severe, with flooding, across parts of the South and Midlands. It was a dry month (with 69% of the average rainfall), particularly away from the thundery south. The lowest minimum was -4.6C at Aboyne on the 1st. 81.0 mm of rain fell at Winterbourne (West Midlands) on the 27-28th. In terms of the CET 13.2 was equal with 2017 but behind 1964 (13.3), 2008 (13.4), 1947 (13.5), and 1992 (13.6).
2019 A rather cool changeable month with some cold and warm spells. The final two days were very warm in the SE. Dry in Wales and the south but wetter elsewhere, giving an average of 93% of rainfall. Average sunshine although cloudier in the north. There was a fine spell in the north midmonth and indeed the highest temperature of the month was 25.8C at Kinlochwere (Ross and Cromarty) on the 15th. The lowest temperature was -6.2C at Kinbrace (Sutherland) on the 7th.
2020 Mostly a very anticyclonic month. It was a very sunny month, the sunniest month on record, with 143% of average, and was particularly sunny in England and Wales. An England and Wales average of 266 hours beat the previous record of June 1959. The highest sunshine total was recorded at Bournemouth, 339.5 hours. It was also a very dry month, overall with 47% of average rainfall, but it was extremely dry in the southeast. It was slightly warmer than average, although there some sharp frosts early and midmonth. The highest temperature of the month was 28.3C at Cromdale (Morayshire) on the 29th, and the lowest -6.6C at Kinbrace (Sutherland) on the 3rd. It was a wet month in the far NW: 97.2 mm of rain fell at Achnagart (Ross & Cromarty) on the 22-23rd.
2021 May began very cold, and was generally cold, windy, wet, dull, and unsettled, except for the final few days, Nationally it was the coldest May since 1996. The maxima were particularly low. Many places saw double the average rainfall, with an average of 171%, making this May the fourth wettest since 1862; Wales had its wettest May on record (with 245 mm), as did Devon. Sunshine was in short supply (apart from Northern Ireland), with 86% of the long-term average. The only warmth came right at the end of the month, when 25.1C was recorded at Kinlochewe (Ross & Cromarty) on the 31st. The lowest minimum of the month was -61C at St. Harmon (Powys) on the 2nd. The highest 9-9 raifall total was 103 mm at Mickleden (Cumbria) on the 20th-21st. Snow lay to 1 cm at Achiltibuie (Ross & Cromarty) on the 5th. All in all a May to forget.
May in history
1141 The earliest known severe hailstorm in Britain affected Wellesbourne this month; fatalities were recorded.
1315 A very poor spring, ending years of prospecerity in the Mediaeval Warm Period, marking the start of a succession of cool and very wet springs and summers, leading to "The Great Famine" of 1315-1322. Cereal shortages then led to "the great dying of beasts".
1579 A foot of snow apparently settled in London on the 4th.
1697 Quite a month. On the 10th, an exceptionally destructive hailstorm travelled across Wales and NW England. The storm resulted in several severe injuries. Then on the 15th was probably the most severe hailstorm ever recorded in Britain (technically known as a "H8 storm"), with a fatality in Offley (Herts.); hailstones were reported up to 140 mm in diameter.
1698 The coldest on record (8.5); the cold spring was notable, even for the "Little Ice Age". The cold spring followed a cold winter. There was a significant snowfall acrosss the south of England on the 13th.
1740 Very cold (8.6).
1773 This May was the wettest on record, with an estimated England and Wales average of six inches (152 mm, 238%) of rain.
1785 Part of a very dry spring, leading to a summer of drought, with canals and water supplies running low in the summer, leading to a rise in the price of bread.
1811 A very unsettled month, with severe thunderstorms, heavy rain, large hail, and flooding. A powerful tornado reportedly lifted cows in the Derbyshire Dales on the 12th. Hailstones 5" caused damage in Sheffield on the 19th. A severe thunderstorm on the 27th caused the Severn to flood, with hailstones up to 6" large.
1816 The famous "Year without a Summer", following the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in April 1815, reportedly saw snow fall as far south as the London area on the 12th. There were widespread food riots in Britain.
1821 Reportedly there was snow in the south on the late date of the 27th.
1833 The warmest on record (15.1C CET).
1844 The driest on record (7.9 mm).
1848 Very warm (13.9) - indeed, May was warmer than August (13.6) this year.
1855 Very cold (8.8).
1884 The record daily rainfall for the month of 172.2mm was set at Seathwaite (Cumbria) on the 8th.
1886 Very wet, with some exceptionally heavy rain over northern England and Scotland between the 11th and 13th. Then there was a very cold spell, with some snow.
1891 Part of the "Springless Year". Incredible snowstorm and frosts on May 18th, with a wide covering of snow across the south; the north wind brought snow cover up to 7" near Norwich. There was a reading of -10C at Ben Nevis on that Whitsun Monday Bank Holiday (movable until 1972), the all time May minimum. It only reached a maximum of 4C in East Anglia. Elsewhere it was windy and with heavy showers, including hail.
1893 London's 73 days without rain (from 4 March, at Mile End) came to an end on May 16th. This is the record period without rain in the country. More generally the great drought lasted 50 days in Sussex and London. Obviously it was an exceptionally dry spring. After a thundery interlude, the drought resumed, only really ending from the end of June.
1896 Very dry.
British weather in May