St Swithin's Day

St Swithin's Day

Sometimes it feels like it rains non-stop anyway! But 2018 has been an amazing summer so far –  fingers crossed 15 July is dry. Folklore has it that if it rains on St Swithin’s Day it rains for 40 days!

Here in Britain we’re used to foul weather. The rain is a standing joke – there’s either far too little of it or far too much. And it’s always a favourite topic of conversation. Some summers have been appalling beyond belief, but this year we’re doing really well – so far!

June 2012 excelled itself. At the time it was the wettest on record since 1910, and the equal wettest since 1766! It was also the coollest June since 1991, giving everyone ample chance to talk about the great British obsession – the weather.

Fingers Crossed for a Dry St Swithin’s Day…

Here at Visit Fylde Coast we’re keeping our fingers crossed for dry weather on St Swithin’s Day. With not many days to go, as of the time of writing (on 9 July 2018) the forecast for 15th July is clear and dry. However, with rain forecast for the 16th it’s not a promise!

Weather Forecast for 15.7.18, St Swithin's Day
Weather Forecast for 15.7.18, St Swithin’s Day

Those raindrops on Tuesday (if they arrive) will be the first ones that we’ve seen for some time. Then they’re followed by some intermittent rain and showers, as the temperatures start to drop a little.

Weather forecast for 18 July 2018 onwards

Will it Rain on St Swithin’s Day? 15 July

It was a 16th century rhyme that first declared what would happen to the weather following St Swithin’s Day. That it would rain for 40 days if it rained, or be dry for 40 days if it was dry.

St Swithin’s Day if it do rain, for 40 days it will remain.
St Swithin’s Day if it be fair, for 40 days it will rain no more.

Watch this little video clip of the rain lashing against the window, driven by the wind with nothing to stop the full force of the weather coming off the sea. Granted, it was filmed in February and not July, but we have seen weather just like this many times in the middle of summer!

Rain against the window

Effect of the Jet Stream

This old saying about St Swithin’s Day comes from a well observed weather pattern created by the jet stream.

By mid July, in most years, the jet stream has settled down and along with it the weather. This sets the weather patterns until well into August.*

The jet stream is a narrow ‘river’ of fast moving air that sits about 10 miles high in the sky. It flows from America across the Atlantic to Europe and ultimately to us in Britain. It adds energy to and helps to steer the Atlantic weather.

Sometimes the jet stream flows smoothly for weeks or even months. With a bit of luck it will head-off the lows which form above Scotland, leaving nice weather for the UK. However, in some years it drops southwards to create a disturbed and wet season.

It’s the changes in the path of the jet stream which are often responsible for the errors in weather forecasts.

*At the time of first writing this article in July 2012, according to Met Office Records dating back for the previous 55 years, 40 days of similar weather hadn’t once followed St Swithin’s Day.

Who was St Swithin?

Swithin was an Anglo-Saxon Bishop of Winchester who died in 862. He was adopted as the patron saint of the restored church in Winchester a hundred years later. He had originally been buried outdoors at his own request, where he could ‘feel passing feet and rain drops’.

In 971 his body was moved to a new indoor shrine. Legend has it that on the day there was a heavy shower which was created by St Swithin to show his displeasure at his remains being moved.

A more probable story is that the legend is a pagan one, where European saints are credited with an almost identical influence on the weather.

The Heatwave of 1976 vs 2018

The summer of 2018 looks like it’s going to go down in history along with the summer of 1976, for being one long heatwave. Your editor was just a little girl in 1976, but can remember the endless hot, sunny days, paddling pools and some areas of the country using standpipes (fortunately not ours).

The heatwave of 1976 saw the worst drought in modern times and it’s always been the yardstick against which all other heat waves have been compared. Over 15 consecutive days the mercury soared over 32C, along with a way-below average rainfall over 15 long months from May 1975 to August 1976.

We’ve had shocking moorland fires this summer, and the sand dunes at St Annes have even been on fire. Local councils have banned the use of barbecues on grassland. In 1976 fires on moorland and woods were rife, with 50,000 trees being burnt just in Dorset.

So how does 2018 compare to 1976?

Our modern-day heatwave has taken temperatures over 28C for 11 days in a row, so it’s some way short of 1976. Although if it carries on it will break the last UK record, which was set in August 1997.

2018 has already bet 1976 on two points –

  • In June 2018 we recorded 239.9 hours on sunshine – against 205.5 hours in June 1976
  • In June 2018 we’ve only had 35.4mm average rainfall – whereas in June 1976 it was 37.5mm

Old Wives Tales

There are many old wives tales about the weather. ‘If there’s a patch of blue big enough to make a pair of sailors trousers it won’t rain’ and all that kind of thing. Some of them are founded in reality, along with many of the old sayings from long ago.

God of Weather

Maybe we should call on Indra, the Hindu God of weather, war, creation and the sun.

Riding his four tusked albino elephant he might be more able to create sunshine than us lesser mortals seem able to, so that we could enjoy better summers here on the Fylde Coast!

Let's hope that St Swithin's Day is dry - and brings evenings like this one in July...
Let’s hope that St Swithin’s Day is dry – and brings evenings like this one in July…
Rain on St Swithin's Day
Or maybe rain over the sea and on the window is more likely….

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