The summer of ’76 revisited as heatwave returns

Children play in the water fountains at City Park, Bradford. PIC: Simon Hulme

Children play in the water fountains at City Park, Bradford. PIC: Simon Hulme

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During the hottest week of the year so far, there were few places to cool down. However, the fountains at City Park in Bradford provided some relief from the searing temperatures, which saw Britain declared hotter than Barcelona.

Around 2,500 people also flocked to Ilkley Lido, business boomed at the county’s ice cream parlours and the 13 Humboldt penguins at Harewood House finally got the chance to enjoy their native climate. Originating from South America, they spent the week sat on the edge of their rock pool enjoying the rays.

However, despite complaints that this has been a disastrous summer weather-wise, not everyone was pleased by the unexpected arrival of Mediterranean temperatures. Amid complaints that it was the wrong kind of sun, many train passengers faced long delays after Network Rail forced a slowdown on some services owing to tracks expanding in the sunshine.

While the Met Office issued a yellow warning amid forecasts the heatwave would be brought to an end by thunderstorms, by Friday evening it still had not rained on the parade in Yorkshire.

The good weather coincided with the 20th anniversary of one of the UK’s most memorable heat waves. In 1976, 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.

The highest temperature recorded in the June was 35.6C in Southampton and in July it topped 35.9C in Cheltenham. 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 since records began.

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.

It got worse. Despite the appointment of a Minister of Drought, crops failed, food prices soared and heath and forest fires broke out across rural England, with 50,000 trees being destroyed in Dorset alone.

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