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Nature and Weather in South East England

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 the strength of the Azores High - an anticyclone that forms to the south west of the UK. If it gets established, drifting in over southern England or the near continent, the fine weather continues.

If not low pressure systems come in in off the Atlantic, bringing cooler, wetter weather. These are actually the remains of tropical storms and hurricanes which form off Africa and then swing round past the Caribbean and up the east coast of the US, before coming across the North Atlantic, much reduced in strength. A strong Azores High pushes these systems northwards: a weaker one lets them cross southern England. 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.

In 2022, after three cloudy days at the start of the month, hot sunshine set in until the 14th. This was a seeming repeat of the heatwave of mid July that had seen temperatures reach a record 40 degrees, though this time with a top temperature of 34 degrees on the 13th, the culmination of five days with highs above 30 degrees. There was then solid and prolonged rain on both the 16th and 17th, ending a severe drought that had turned the countryside brown and caused extensive leaf shedding on trees. The rest of the month was dominated by low pressure centred to the north of the UK, producing a mixture of sunshine and cloud, with temperatures in the mid twenties and one more good period of rain on 25 August.

2016 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.

In 2019 it was changeable for the first three weeks of the month, with lows over the north of the UK. Apart from two very windy days on the 9th and 10th and heavy rain on the 14th and 16th, the weather was not terrible, however: cloudy, but with some sunshine on 13 days, minor showers on six other days, and temperatures were mostly in the low twenties. From the 23rd onwards there was then a heatwave, which coincided neatly with the bank holiday weekend and saw temperatures rise to 30 degrees on the Friday and Saturday (the 23rd and 24th) and then to 33 degrees for the next three days, a new record for the August bank holiday weekend. From the 28th onwards the weather returned to a more mixed pattern with temperatures in the mid 20s, but still with good amounts of sunshine on the last three days of the month.

August 2017 saw westerly (or north westerly) winds dominating, apart from high ridges from 10 to 13 and 25 to 31 August. There was rain on ten days, but in general the weather was middling, neither spectacularly good nor bad. Seven days saw full sunshine, five of them weekend days, with three of those being the August bank holiday weekend which was hot and sunny throughout. On top of this there were fifteen days of sunshine and cloud, leaving just nine days when there was no sun at all. Temperatures on the Monday bank holiday reached 28 degrees, but otherwise were largely in the low twenties all month.

In 2020 the month started with high pressure, bringing hot and sunny weather but also very sultry nights. There was more than a week where overnight lows never dropped below 20 degrees, and on the night of the 10th to the 11th the temperature was still 25 degrees at midnight, while the following night it was 26 degrees. Daytime maximums reached the mid 30s every day from the 7th to the 12th, with 36 degrees on the 7th and 35 degrees on the 11th. There was then a classic thundery breakdown, with storms coming up from the continent, after which low pressure dominated for much of the rest of the month. From the 20th this was driven by a strong jetstream which produced very autumnal weather, including deep storms on the 20th and 25th. In the last three days of the month, the bank holiday weekend, high pressure to the west produced cool northerly winds and days where sunny starts quickly gave way to cool grey cloud.

2021 was a strange August in that slow-moving lows, caused by kinks in the jetstream, dominated for first three weeks. The result was a lot of cloud, regular showers, and occasional sun, though only the 10th was a proper sunny day. High pressure then set in from the 23rd onwards, but centred over Scotland. This brought wonderful August weather to the Western Isles, but in the south east resulted in nine days of cool north easterly winds, grey skies and drizzle.

In 2018 a heatwave that had lasted since late June continued in the first week of August, but thereafter the weather was changeable, with the south east often being on the boundary between wetter weather to the north and the Azores High to the south. There was rain on ten days (very welcome on 9 and 10 August after three months of relative drought) but also part sunshine on 17 days and full sunshine on six more (all these being in the first week apart from one sunny day on the 31st). Temperature were in the mid 20s for most of the second and third weeks, but dipped into the low teens for most of the last ten days of the month.

In 2023 the south east was sandwiched between continental highs and low pressure to the north, producing mostly a mix of sunshine and cloud, though only seven days with any rain. There were only five days of full sunshine, with temperatures topping out at 27 degrees, which felt a bit disappointing after a changeable July.

In August 2011, though low pressure systems dominated, 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.

August 2014 was also 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 August 2007 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

As mentioned above, 2007, 2017 and 2019 all managed unbroken sunny weather for the bank holiday weekend, the latter reaching record temperatures of 33 degrees on the Sunday and Monday. In 2017 the temperatures was 24 degrees, soaring to 28 degrees on the Monday. 2006 and 2011 also saw a generally fine bank holiday weekend, with a mix of sun and cloud and the odd shower.

But more often the bank holiday weekend weather is a lot more mixed. In 2022 sunny mornings were followed by cloudy afternoons on the Saturday and Sunday, with Monday mainly cloudy. 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, with temperatures in the low teens. In 2013 Saturday was very wet but the other two days had sun and cloud and temperatures of 25 degrees. In 2023 there was sunshine and cloud on all three days, with a few showers on the Saturday.

Particularly disappointing years include 2020 when the bank holiday fell on the last three days of the month, and all three days had cold north winds and largely grey skies, with temperatures in the mid teens, though there was some early and late sun on the Sunday and Monday. 2021 was even worse, with grey skies apart from some sun on the Saturday morning, and drizzle on the Monday. In 2015 the whole weekend also was cloudy, apart from some sun on Saturday morning, with rain on Saturday afternoon and Monday morning. In 2018 there was rain on the Sunday, cloud on the Monday and only some sun on the Saturday, with temperatures in the low teens.

The week after bank holiday has a fairly good record of being sunny - often just in time to coincide with children going back to school. 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2010 and 2013 all followed this pattern. In 2023 there was a mix of sun and cloud for the five days immediately after the bank holiday, but then seven days of hot sunshine from 3 to 9 September, the first sustained period of fine weather since mid June. Temperatures peaked above 30 degrees for six consecutive days, culminating in 33 degrees on 8 September, the hottest day of the summer.

In 2019 Tuesday continued the 33 degree heatwave of the bank holiday weekend and then after a day of drizzle it was mostly sunny with temperatures in the mid twenties on the Thursday and Friday, with sun and cloud at the weekend. In 2016 it was sunny from Tuesday to Thursday, in 2021 from Friday to Wednesday (the 3rd to 8th of September), and in 2018 from Friday to Sunday.

The pattern broke down in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2020, 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. In 2022 there was a breezy mix of sunshine and cloud, with the occasional shower.

In 2017 perfect bank holiday weather was a brief interlude in otherwise fairly changeable weather that lasted from late July into the autumn: early September continued the trend, with a mix of sun, cloud and rain, and unspectacular temperatures.

Signs that summer is over

Sometimes summer heat returns in this post-bank holiday week. In 2019, as noted above, the Friday and Saturday of the bank holiday weekend saw temperatures of 30 degrees and the Sunday to Tuesday 33 degrees, while in 2023 the mercury got up to 33 degrees in the first week of September, producing the hottest temperatures of the summer. In 2013 it reached 29 degrees on 4 September and 30 degrees the following day, and in 2021 it got up to 30 degrees on the 7th and 8th of September.

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.

The sea still remains warm enough for swimming - indeed, it is now at its best, with temperatures of around 18 or even 19 degrees (20 degrees in 2022). Lower air temperatures can mean that it does not seem so inviting as it did earlier in the summer, however, and after the August bank holiday there is always an awareness that soon you will be having your last sea swim.

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