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October weather


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It is not unusual for there to be a sunny day or two right at the end of October when you are sat in shirtsleeves wondering if November can be just days away.

But despite this, the weather is also a lot less reliable than it is in September. It is above all changeable - typically a succession of Atlantic lows with reasonably mild Gulf Stream air. While in September rain never seems to take hold for long, in October it is the sunshine that always seems to be fleeting. If it is sunny in the morning, there is a good chance in October that it will be wet in the afternoon. It nearly always seems to be windy.

In this respect, October is a kind of sister to changeable March, though with 50 percent more rain on average. It is in fact the month with the highest average rainfall in the south east (followed by November, December and January).

Brooding clouds and storms

When clouds come, they are often not the fluffy white spring or September kind, but big and brooding. October can also be downright stormy. 16 October 1987 saw a storm that caused major disruption in the south east and flattened whole woods to the south of London (for example around Sevenoaks). Lesser storms - but still quite disruptive - occurred on 27 October 2002 and 28 October 2013. In 2004 a threatened storm towards the end of the month stayed over the West Country and then retreated: but the month was still particularly windy and wet in the south east.

The official average maximum temperature in October is 15 degrees, but if the wind is coming from the south or south west, daytime temperatures can still reach into the upper teens or low twenties. From 8-12 October 2008, for example, temperatures rose as high as 23 degrees, while on 10 October 2010 they reached 22 degrees.

It is not unusual for there to be a burst of such warmth quite late in the month – as in 2009, when low pressure brought winds from Spain from the 23rd to the end of the month producing highs of 19 degrees - or 2014 when temperatures in the second half were also regularly in the mid to high teens, and reached 20 degrees as late as the 27th and 28th, and up to 24 degrees (an all-time record) on the 31st. October 2005 and 2006 also ended with temperatures still regularly up to 20 degrees, while 31 October 2016 also saw a freak day of 20 degree sunshine which felt like summer.

2005 was in fact that rare thing, a fairly settled and sunny October - at least until the 18th, when more normal westerly weather set in. Even better was 2003, when high pressure reigned throughout the month and there were only two days of rain. In 2010 the last three weekends of the month were sunny, the exception being Sunday 31st.

In 2015 and 2016 high pressure also dominated apart from short interludes of a low pressure. In 2015 there were three such interludes and in all the month produced eight sunny days, eight with part sunshine, and eight days with some rain. In the last ten days of the month a continental high brought southerly winds and a series of gloriously sunny days with temperatures in the high teens, including the last Sunday and Saturday or the month.

In 2016 highs dominated for all but 14-16 October. Easterly and later north westerly winds kept maximum temperatures in the mid teens, apart from the freakishly warm 31st mentioned above. There were seven sunny days, ten with rain (very light and short-lived on three of these), and eleven of part sunshine.

2011 was also largely dry, with good amounts of sun and temperatures rising regularly into the high teens. It is most notable for its start, however, which saw temperatures as high as 29 degrees. This was a continuation of a freak heatwave that had started in late September, and was caused by a continental high bring air up from the Mediterranean. Beaches were packed, the sea full of swimmers, and for a brief moment south east England felt like Greece. What made these temperatures even more unexpected was that they followed a consistently changeable summer when the mercury had rarely risen past the low twenties. The heatwave only lasted three days into October, however, and temperatures had halved to 15 degrees by the 6th.

The first cold nights

If skies are cloudy nights can be surprisingly mild in October - only two or three degrees colder than the day. Notable in this respect were 2005 and 2006, when night time temperatures were 15 or 16 degrees even at the end of the month.

Equally, this is the first month when really cold nights are also possible, with temperatures down to the low single figures. This is usually associated with high pressure bringing winds from the north, as in 2010 when high pressure to the south west brought north westerly winds from the 14th to the 22nd, and then a high over the UK produced north easterly air flows from 23 to 26 October. On several days from 17 October onwards this produced an overnight temperature of just 3 degrees, with the temperature dipping as low as one degree on 21 and 25 October.

High pressure also produced cold nights as early as 2 and 5 October in 2008, setting the leaves turning early, and after the brief warm period mentioned above, the second half of the month was dominated by a high pressure zone to the south west or west which repeatedly brought northerly winds that pushed temperatures down to freezing overnight. On 28 October, 4cm of snow fell (and settled for over 24 hours) in Hertfordshire and the outskirts of north London, while in central London there was sleet.

2015 also saw nights as cold as 3-4 degrees rurally right from the start of the month and from 9 to 14 October due to a Scandinavian (and later UK) high producing easterly and then north easterly winds. As a consequence autumn tinting was already widely advanced by the end of month. In 2016 there were nights below 6 degrees on 1-2, 10-11, 22-23 and 30-31 October, with 7-8 degrees from 12-15, 21and 25-26 October.

By contrast in 2011, after the freakishly hot start to the month mentioned above, it was a low pressure system to the north sucking in cold air from the northwest which brought night time temperatures down as low as 3 degrees from the 14th to the 22nd, though they returned to the low teens for the rest of the month.

A gloomy half light

When the sky is grey in October, it seems very gloomy indeed. Mid month sees the start of that winter half-light that has you putting the lights on in the middle of the day, and makes you feel melancholy and disinclined to venture out.

On the plus side, when the sun breaks through, it is low enough to produce lovely golden light when it is shining – or less usefully to shine directly into your eyes. By the end of the month, sunlight is taking on that mysterious low winter feel, but it still packs enough warmth for it to be nice to sit out in it. The sky is a deep blue, with the haziness of summer long gone. Visibility is excellent – a perfect time to see distant views.

The central heating often goes on at some point in the month, though only really early in the morning is it vital. However, in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2014 and 2015 it was not necessary even at the end of the month.

Even if the weather is not that cold, it definitely feels autumnal. Summer seems an immeasurable distance away. Thicker jackets and woolly hats come out of the cupboard, but are not always needed and sometimes positively superfluous. This is one of those times when you always seem to be bringing too much clothing or too little.

Sunset rushes back from 6.30pm to little after 5.30 pm during October, but for once barely notices: the days are not long, but they seem of reasonable length until the clocks go back. Perhaps the lateness of dawn is more noticeable – by the time the clocks go back it is not getting light until 7.50 am.

However one tries to prepare, the clocks going back on the last weekend of the month always come as a horrible shock. It will now be dark little after 4pm for the next three months, and it will not be light as late as it was on the last Saturday of British Summer Time for four months.

Winter blues can start. Scientists reckon that from late October to March, the sun in the UK is too low to provide us with vitamin D. This might explain why rich foods suddenly start to see more attractive in October. Colds seem to circle around you, or always be lurking in the back of your throat.

Once the heavy rain starts, mud also becomes deep and prevalent on paths once more. Grass and station benches are drenched in dew in the mornings, and one stops feeling one can sit on the grass – though there are exceptions after a couple of dry days when one gingerly sits on a bag or coat. Even late in the month a dry period is still enough to harden country paths somewhat, however, and in 2016 there was so little rain that there was no mud at all.

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© Peter Conway 2006-2016 • All Rights Reserved

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