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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 2 April, 2003, 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK
Just for the record
Reading amongst the daffodils
Hot enough for you?
At times it might have felt like it, but yesterday was not the wettest 1 April ever. We have, however, just enjoyed the brightest March since records began. It is but the latest weather record to fall in recent years.

For much of the past month, Britons have been shrugging off their winter woollies and basking in the sunniest spring for decades.

England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland experienced record-breaking hours of sunshine in March, according to the Met Office. The unusually balmy weather was part of a trend to warmer springs over the past few years.

This is not the only weather record to fall this year - the first two months of 2003 were the UK's second sunniest since records began in 1960.

Mallorca in January
Scotland? No, it's "sunny" Spain
Yet January was a month of two halves with both biting frosts and balmy days. Early on, temperatures plummeted and snow clouds gathered to dump record (that word again) falls on a country unused to dealing with more than a few flakes. London, for instance, ground to halt under its heaviest snow falls for nearly 12 years.

But on 26 January, those in search of winter sun would have been better off in Aboyne, Aberdeenshire, than the Costa del Sol. It saw temperatures reach 18.3C - beating Scotland's previous January high of 17.6C set in 1887, and equalling the highest ever January maximum in the UK - while the Spanish resort recorded a maximum of 17C. (Winter soon returned with a vengeance to the Scottish village - four days later, the mercury dropped to minus 3C.)

Wimbledon tennis statue in the rain
And the forecast for summer is...
While 1999 was one of the sunniest years in the 20th Century, 2000 and 2001 saw a lot less sun. Last year may well be remembered for its wet and grey days, but it was warmer than average. The mean central England temperature of 10.6C almost equalled that of 1999, the highest since records began in 1878.

Is it global warming? In part, say weather experts. It is also the Gulf Stream that makes our winters milder than, for instance, the snow-bound East Coast of Canada which is on the same latitude as the UK. Then there is the effects of El Nino, a weather phenomenon which causes the Pacific Ocean to warm up about every four years.

Water-logged nation

The UK's weather is nothing if not variable and thus record rainfall has also been experienced in recent years.

Floods in Yorkshire, 2000
Severe flooding was the result
In 2000, the wettest year in England and Wales for more than a century, the sodden ground and swollen rivers proved too much for flood defences. Homes and businesses, fields and town centres were swamped.

That year also had 23 severe storms, the most since 1894. Yet the past decade has not seen a storm to match that which hit in 1987, the fourth most severe storm since records began (but still not officially classed as a hurricane). Eighteen people died, damage was estimated at 1.9bn and 15 million trees were lost.

But changes in the UK's weather are nothing new. From at least the 15th Century to the end of the 19th Century, northern Europeans shivered through what is today called the "Little Ice Age" when it was cold enough in winter for the River Thames to freeze. The ice was thick enough for Londoners to light fires on it to roast animals.

With such fluctuations - and indeed, no true extremes to endure - it is no wonder that Britons find the weather a source of endless fascination.

UK 'close to record warmth'
17 Dec 02  |  Science/Nature
Autumn breaks wet weather records
27 Nov 00  |  UK News

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