It’s been an easy winter thus far. In our neck of the woods, the number of frosty mornings necessitating ritualistic windscreen ice scraping ceremonies can be counted on the fingers of one hand. So when we woke up to see Jack Frost had visited the other weekend, we thought a stroll before breakfast was in order. Besides, I thought, maybe the photos would be OK for A Bit About Britain and I could use it as an excuse to talk about the weather.
The Gulf Stream flows northward from Florida. Somewhere along the way, it morphs into the North Atlantic Drift, pops across to visit the British Isles and is largely responsible for the mild weather experienced here and in other parts of Western Europe.
Thanks to the Gulf Stream, the British climate is famously temperate. It would be nice to add, “just like its population”, but – sadly – Britain has proportionately as many nutcases as anywhere else. However, my views on British politics and the standard of drivers around Manchester will have to wait for another time, because today we are concentrating on the weather.
The English, in particular, are notoriously fascinated by the weather – or talking about it, at any rate. It is used as a standard conversation opener:
“Arr. Cloudin’ over, though. Could see 3 feet of snow and a tornado by tea time.”
“I’d better get home and let the husband in, then.”
Extremes of weather are rare in Britain – though the winter of 1947 was so bad from January to March that it actually gets mentioned in books about the Cold War (bad joke intended, but it really was a significant historical event). However, the lowest temperatures are usually reserved for upland areas and, particularly, the Highlands of Scotland where freezing and blizzard conditions are common in winter. Elsewhere, snow before Christmas is not the the norm – though that certainly happened during the winter of 2010-11 and I know from personal experience that lowland temperatures then were at least -15 Centigrade. Britain does get droughts too – though a British-style drought usually merely results in a hose-pipe ban.
The coldest temperature recorded in Britain is -27.2 Centigrade (Braemar in 1982 and Altnaharra in 1995), and the hottest is 38.5 Centigrade in Faversham, Kent, in 2003.
British weather is supposed to be unpredictable, though I think more so in the north - which I reckon is about twice as wet as the south. Generally speaking, it is warmer in the south and drier and colder in the east. Rain is universal – which is why the place is as green as it is and why it was good to take advantage of that crisp, dry, morning. And this is a good moment to stop before we get into serious issues like climate change, increased flooding and the prediction that the south east will soon be a desert.