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August weather


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August often starts as high summer, with hot sunshine and sticky temperatures that can feel quite oppressive. For the rest of the month, the weather depends on how strong the Azores High is. If it gets established, drifting in over the UK from its usual position to the south west, there is hot sunny weather.

If not, cooler, wetter weather comes in off the Atlantic. When this happens, it can seem as if summer is over, and thoughts become autumnal. On the other hand, cooler weather can be not unwelcome if July has seen a heatwave. And cool is only a relative term here, meaning one feels the need for a second layer in the evenings but could probably get by without it.

A good year for the Azores High was the exceptional summer of 2003, when the hot sunshine continued throughout the month, with temperatures reaching a record 38.5 degrees. Despite the Azores High alternating with lows, August 2013 was also a very sunny month, following on from a hot and sunny July and a pleasant enough June. The month saw 14 sunny or mainly sunny days and 10 with a mix of sun or cloud, and apart from the 1st when the thermometer reached 34 degrees, temperatures were in the pleasant mid 20s, reaching 27 degrees a couple of times. There was rain on eight days, four of them in a cluster mid month (14th to 17th), and two Saturdays (17th and 24th) also contrived to be wet.

2016 also saw 14 days of sunshine and eight of part sun, with rain on only five days. The month had a particularly good end with hot sunshine from the 23rd onwards which brought temperatures of 32 degrees (34 in Gravesend) on the 24th before reverting to a pleasant 25 to 27 degrees - all this due to a continental high which kept wet and windy weather to the north. One exception to this was a day of heavy showers on Sunday 28 on the bank holiday weekend when temperatures were just 18 degrees. High pressure (an Azores High) also dominated from 5 to 18 August with temperatures in the low to mid twenties but sunshine was tempered by north westerly breezes during this period. This culminated in deep low on 19-21 August which brought 40 mph winds to the south coast on Saturday 20th. The first four days of the month continued an unsettled period that had started in July.

Other good Augusts include 2005, when the first three weeks were mainly sunny, though with more moderate temperatures in the low 20s and rather grey and wet weekends, and 2009, when there was sunshine and fair weather cloud throughout the month, with temperatures rising repeatedly into the high 20s and once (on the 19th) to 30 degrees.

2012 saw a similarly pleasant August, a huge relief after record rain in April, May, June and July. There was a mix of sunshine and cloud, with only the occasional shower, and temperatures in the low 20s apart from two small heatwaves: one from 8-12 August (the last five days of the London Olympics), when temperatures rose up to 28 degrees, and the other from 17-20 August, with temperatures up to 31 degrees and night time temperatures as high as 23 degrees. Only on the last three days of the month did the weather turn cool, showery and rather autumnal.

Years when it was wet

In 2006, by contrast, northwesterly winds dominated for the whole of August, bringing in a mix of heavy showers and sunny intervals. This was not entirely unwelcome, as it brought greenery pack to parks and countryside after a dry June and July that had seen grass shrivel to dust, and trees and bushes start to wilt from drought.

The same was true in August 2010, which saw changeable weather throughout, again bringing welcome greenery after a dry June and July. There was a good deal of cloud, wind and rain in the second half particularly, and temperatures mainly in the 18-22 degree range. There were no really hot days the entire month, though there were quite a few days of intermittent sunshine.

August 2008 was even worse, with cool, grey skies dominating for the entire month, There were only three truly sunny days, though thankfully two of them (23 and 30 August) were Saturdays. Only the 30th was anything like hot (25-27 degrees), and all five Sundays in the month were grey and showery.

Almost as bad was August 2015, when low pressure and cloudy weather predominated, though with temperatures in the low 20s at least. There at least five days of heavy rain and nine more in which there was some rain. Sussex had its wettest August since 1946, with more than double the usual rainfall. But there were also six full sun days, five of them at weekends, with temperatures reaching 28 degrees on the 8th and 31 degrees on the 22nd, both Saturdays. Eight other days had at least some sun.

Low pressure systems also dominated in August 2011, but there were only four or five well-scattered wet days. Apart from a brief heatwave in the first three days when highs reached 29 degrees, the rest of the month saw a mix of sun, cloud and the odd shower (with no single day being entirely sunny) and temperatures in the low 20s.

Likewise August 2014 was relatively dry despite lows in the first half and north westerly winds in the second. The latter was caused by an Azores High lurking off to the south west of the UK and brought rather autumnal temperatures of only 17-18 degrees, a shock after first half temperatures in the low to mid 20s. However, apart from a couple of wet nights the only significant rain was on the 10th and 11th (from a former tropical hurricane) and a thoroughly wet bank holiday Monday on the 25th. There were ten days with sunshine and fair weather cloud, four where cloud bubbled up and then faded away, and eight more with some sunny intervals.

In other years August alternates periods of sunny and greyer weather. 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2004 all had a sunny hot start, followed by a week to ten days of cooler, rainier skies, and then a return to hot weather towards the end. Sadly the solar eclipse in Cornwall on 11 August 1999 occured in the grey period, and was hidden from watchers by 10,000 metres of cloud and drizzle.

There was a similar pattern in August 2007 when the start of the month saw the first sustained fine period of what had been a very wet summer, before changeable westerly weather set in on 13 August. Sunny weather then took a while to return: it was not until 25 August that there was another proper sunny day, but conveniently that happened to be the Saturday of the bank holiday weekend. The next two days were also hot and sunny.

Bank holiday weather

2011 also saw a generally fine bank holiday weekend, with a mix of sun and cloud and the odd shower, and 2006 was similiar. But more often, the bank holiday weekend weather is a lot more mixed. An example was 2001, when the Friday and Saturday were searingly hot and sunny but the Sunday saw drizzle and the Monday saw cloud. 2002 and 2003 also saw grey bank holiday Mondays, while in 2004 a fine Saturday gave way to a greyer wetter Sunday and a Monday of sunshine and heavy showers. In 2014 a relatively fine Saturday and Sunday were followed by torrential rain on the Monday, while in 2016 a showery Sunday and cloudy morning to the Monday were the exceptions to an otherwise hot and sunny ending to the month.

In 2012 the Saturday was grey and showery, while Sunday and Monday saw sun and cloud, though temperatures in the low teens: in 2013 it was the same, except Saturday was very wet and the other two days had temperatures of 25 degrees. 2005, when the bank holiday weekend fell unusually late on the 27-29th, also saw a grey Saturday, though in this case giving way to increasingly hot sunshine on the Sunday and Monday. In 2009 Monday was the hottest day after a breezy but sunny Saturday and cloudy Sunday. Meanwhile in 2010, after heavy rain in the two weeks before the weekend, Saturday and Monday produced bright sunshine, albeit with a strong northwesterly breeze, while Sunday was more cloudy. Perhaps most disappointing of all was 2015 which saw some sun on the Saturday morning but was otherwise cloudy with rain on Saturday afternoon and Monday morning.

If an autumnal feel has not set in before (and it did from quite early in the month in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011), it will often do so over the August bank holiday, which frequently marks the point at which you realise summer is definitively over.

Having said that, the week after bank holiday has a good record of being sunny, if less hot than before - or at least, it used to have such a record: 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2010 and 2013 all followed this pattern, with a week of golden of sunshine following the bank holiday weekend (in the case of 2010, this was the first week of September). In 2016 it was sunny from Tuesday to Thursday, and from 2006 on the Tuesday and Wednesday.

The pattern broke down in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015, however. In all of these years the week after the bank holiday was changeable, with quite a lot of cloud and some rain. In 2007 high pressure was firmly in place, but being situated to the west of the UK it brought quite cloudy weather to the south east.

Signs that summer is over

Sometimes summer heat returns in this post-bank holiday week – for example, temperatures climbed to 32 degrees in 2005, with sultry nights of 18-19 degrees, and 2004 also saw a muted version of the same thing. In 2013 temperatures reached 29 degrees on 4 September and 30 degrees the following day. But even if this is the case, there is a poignant feel to the hot weather, which you know will not last. The sun is now getting low and golden in the afternoon, early mornings and evenings start to feel a bit nippy (ie you definitely do put that extra layer on), and the bedclothes go back on the bed. The endless days of high summer seem suddenly far away.

You also start to feel like sitting in the sun once more, rather than retreating to the shade. You can leave your hat and sun tan cream at home. Morning dew appears on the grass or on the seats on the station, and the ground can be damp after rain, with even a bit of mud on shaded paths. (In July even after a downpour, it is dry as a bone).

The sun starts to be low enough to slant in windows again. You suddenly notice that the evenings are drawing in rapidly. Sunset mid month is at 8.25 pm, and it is starting to be dark at 8pm. By the end of the month, lighting up time is back to 7.55 pm, and the sun only comes up at 6 am.

Despite the cooler feel to the weather at the end of August, the sea still remains warm enough for swimming - indeed, it is now at its best, with temperatures of around 18 degrees in good summers and as low as 16 degrees in cooler ones. Lower air temperatures mean that it does not always seem so inviting as it did earlier in the summer, however.

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