Another look at the ‘good old days’

Ploughed fields
Ploughed fields

There is a beautiful spirit

Breathing now,

Its mellow richness on the

Clustered trees,

And, from a beaker full of

Richest dyes

Pouring new glory on the autumn Woods

And dipping in warm light, the Pillared clouds

Mourn on the mountain like a Summer bird . . . .

Salute by Longfellow to September, month of the cobwebbed hedgerows, the horizon of ethereal blue, yet gilded and bronzed with the richness of maturing sunlight; to September with the purple clad moors in our heathery Dales and the golden harvest stubbles across the broad valley below; to September, with the first tints upon the village chestnut trees as the earliest tang of autumn breeze is felt upon the cheek as we walk across the spacious green. Suddenly, there is an acute sense of reflection upon the summer which just might have been, the season of lost expectations which seem to fade as the sun goes down. All too soon, the soft light of the harvest moon will shine through the branches of the woodland border, where the flitter- mice bats begin to break the stillness of September’s earlier twilight.

If you possess the presence of mind to pay heed to these small pictorial tributes of the countryside and as we stand poised upon the threshold of autumn we usually prepared to pay some respects to the passing of summer, few though they may be for 2012.

In spite of August’s disruptive weather behaviour in relation to the progress of harvest, I could not help being quite impressed by a scenic symbolisation of seasonal continuity portrayed in the relay race between summer and autumn one sunny early evening in the third week of the month. The picture was a newly ploughed stubble field with furrows dried to shades of sepia by the daytime heat. Long shadows were lengthening across the field like an imaginary curtain which created the finality of one harvest and depicted the preparation for the next. The familiar farming circle, once completed by the end of September in past times, but now being demonstrated many weeks earlier.

Before immersing ourselves in this year’s meteorological swan-song of summer 2012 with its plethora of “worst-in-living-memory” statistics, it is interesting to place the ratio of wet unsettled summers with contrasting dry summers into some form of perspective. The main objective here is to explore the belief in the memories of grandparents and their former ancestry that our summers have become progressively worse since the “good old days” when sunshine lasted for weeks on end.

However, these old style opinions and theories are supported perhaps by John Keats’ honey bees when he described their thoughts of summer lasting for ever, “brimming o’er their clammy cells,” are completely unfounded.

Official weather records for the first half of the 20th century show no change in the average frequency of dry summers. Prior to this, between 1875 and 1904, the incidence of dry summers was higher, but likewise, there was a noteworthy increase in the number of wet summers, the most outstanding one being 1979, which almost equalled 1903, 1828 and 1815 for being the wettest on record in that particular era of time. The driest summer ever recorded until the mid-20th Century was 1921, although this had been surpassed more than a century earlier in 1818.

Meteorologists accepted the fact dryness of this degree would only occur once in every 100 years, but then, along came 1976 and 1995.

Looking at my own records since 1946 there is no evidence to suggest a higher incidence of dry summers in the earlier years.

The criterion adopted for the definition of wet and dry summers both historically and for my own 66 years of records is seasonal rainfall (June, July and August ) being 25per cent above or below the three month average figure which for our region is 187.5 mm (7. 50 ins).

In the first 25 years, 1946 to 1971, there were eight wet summers and seven dry ones. This segment includes the record wettest summer of 1956, 357 mm(14.28 ins ) and the very dry one in 1959, 75 mm (3 ins). The second quarter, 1972 to 1997 accounts for eight wet summers and 12 dry ones, denoting a suggested trend to improved summers, especially through the 1990s.

From 1998 to the present day there has been a marked deterioration once again towards wetter summers, with the exception of 2001, 2003 and 2006. The summer of 2007 was the second wettest on my records with 337.9 mm. (13.51 ins ), however, this present summer is marching towards these records with a total of 307.9 mm. (12.31 ins) by the end of August’s third week.

Conclusively therefore, there is no argument in favour of better summers long ago. To those people currently assuming roles as prophets of doom regarding shortage of honey bees and detrimental climatic effects, I would suggest they examine historical summer parallels. In doing so, they would discover all these trends and episodes have been mirrored down the centuries. This helps prove modern man’s influences upon the weather is small compared to nature.