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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. Typically it is changeable - a succession of Atlantic lows with brisk winds, scudding clouds and 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. In this respect, October is a sister to turbulent March, though with two thirds more rain on average. It rivals November as the month with the highest rainfall in the south east (with December and January not far behind, you will not be surprised to hear).

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. 16 October 2017 saw Hurricane Ophelia bringing strong winds to Ireland but only a strange yellow sky (apparently due to dust picked up by the storm in the Sahara) in London. 2020 saw Storm Alex on the 2nd and 3rd, and Storm Aidan on the 31st.

These storms are not always that strong in the south east. On 21 October 2017 saw Storm Brian sweep over the north of the country, but in the south east it was not even particularly windy, while on 12 October 2018 Storm Callum produced only a fine breezy day. On 2 November 2023 Storm Ciaran produced very strong winds on the south coast, but was not excessively windy inland.

The official average maximum temperature in October is 15.8 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. 2023 was slightly exceptional in seeing temperatures up to a 26 degrees from 6 to 10 October (accompanied by glorious wall to wall sunshine), but in 2017 temperatures got up to 20 degrees on two days mid month, and then 22 degrees the day of Hurricane Ophelia, while in 2018 temperatures got to 25 degrees on the 10th, 24 degrees on the 13th and 23 degrees on the 5th. Nor is this just due to climate change: as long ago as 8-12 October 2008 temperatures rose to 23 degrees, and 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 2018 when there was a run of four sunny days followed by three largely sunny ones from 18 to 24 October, with temperatures regularly getting up to 18 degrees.

In 2014 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 on the 31st. In 2022 a static low pressure zone sitting to the south west of the UK brought airflows up from the south for the last 13 days of the month, producing temperatures in the high teens that rose to 21 degrees on the 27th and 23 degrees on the 29th. October 2005 and 2006 also ended with temperatures still regularly up to 20 degrees, and the same temperature was achieved on 31 October 2016.

The sunny days late in 2018 were the result of high pressure being in charge from the 18th onwards, following on from westerly lows from the 3rd to the 17th. It was a fairly sunny October with full sun on 12 days and part sunshine on 13 others. In the last five days cold northerly winds brought temperatures down to 8-10 degrees, however.

High pressure also dominated for much of October 2015 and 2016. 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.

2005 was settled and sunny until the 18th, when more normal westerly weather set in. In 2003, 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.

After a burst of cold north westerly winds in the first five days, 2017 was dominated by mild westerly lows, but it was a relatively dry month, with at least some sunshine on 19 days, though generally fairly cloudy. The month ended with four days of high pressure bringing sunshine and sharply cold nights.

In 2022 the weather was fairly static, with lows anchored first to the north, then to the south west, with several high ridges earlier in the month. There were nine sunny days including a run of four from 8 to 11 October: otherwise variable amounts of sun and cloud, with occasional bands of showery rain.

In contrast to the above, 2019 was a wet month, with rain on 16 days, despite high pressure taking over on 19 October. The month had started with westerly lows, which had been in charge since 22 September, bringing typically fast-changing weather of showers, sun, cloud and longer spells of rain. From the 19th onwards there were highs either to the north or the south, but these brought only three sunny days (adding to two earlier in the month) and two partly sunny ones, with lots of cloud on other days and rain from 24 to 26 October.

October 2020 was a classic October, with lows in charge for all but five days mid month. Twelve of the first fifteen days had rain and so did eight of the last ten days, with 22 days seeing some rain. There was also some sunshine on nineteen days, but never for more than an hour or two at a time. Temperatures were in the mid teens all month.

In 2021 a high sat over the south west and then south of the UK from 11 to 15 October, and there were a couple of brief high ridges, but otherwise lows dominated, mostly westerly. Throughout, the weather was changeable, with fairly average temperatures, some heavy rain, but also reasonable amounts of sunshine - four days when it was mainly sunny and some sun on a further twenty days.

2023 was also dominated by westerly lows and changeable weather, apart from the hot sunny weather with temperatures of up to 26 degrees from 6 to 10 October mentioned above, and a brief high from 14 to 17 October, when temperatures only got up to 15 degrees.

The first cold nights

If skies are cloudy, nights can be surprisingly mild in October, with temperatures of 9-11 degrees fairly typical and the thermometer sometimes nudging higher. Notable in this respect were 2005 and 2006, when night time temperatures were 15 or 16 degrees even at the end of the month, and 2022 when they were largely in the 12 to 14 degree range even in the second half.

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.

In 2018 high pressure and north west winds also brought night time temperatures sharply down from the 19th onwards, with the mercury at 3-6 degrees for the next nine days, and then down as low as 1.5 degrees in the last four days of the month as winds turned northerly. In 2019 there was a frost in Oxfordshire on the 3rd (2 degrees elsewhere), but nights were then mild until the last eleven days of the month when north westerly winds brought night time temperatures down to 2 degrees on the 23rd and 24th, 3 degrees on the 27th, minus one degree on the 28th, and 6-7 degrees on other days.

In 2008 high pressure produced cold nights as early as 2 and 5 October, 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 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. 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, 21 and 25-26 October. In 2022 the otherwise mild nights were interrupted by a fall to 5 degrees on the 3rd, and 2 degrees on the 9th, 11th and 12th.

Despite having westerly lows almost the whole month, 2020 also produced cold nights from the 10th to the 13th and the 24th to the 29th, producing full tint on many trees by the last week of the month. After the freakishly hot start to October 2011 mentioned above, north west winds also brought night time temperatures low as 3 degrees from the 14th to the 22nd, though this time it was a low pressure system to the north sucking in the cold air. Night time temperatures then returned to the low teens for the rest of the month.

Low pressure to the north also produced a couple of cold nights right at the start of October 2017, but it was then mild all month until the 26th, when high pressure set in. This produced a run of nights with temperatures as low as 2 degrees.

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, 2015 and 2022 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. 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 reappears on paths, though initially it is slippery surface mud rather than the deep gloopy stuff, and even then is somewhat counteracted by falling leaves. 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 and 2017 there was so little rain that there was very little mud at all - and in 2018 none whatsoever. In 2023, despite some heavy rain in the second half, surface mud only appeared in the last few days of the month, and then patchily.

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© Peter Conway 2006-2023 • All Rights Reserved

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