No wonder you couldn't sleep this summer: we've just had the hottest nights on record

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The Independent Online

The summer of 2003 will go down in the record books for its balmy nights as well as its sweltering days, the Met Office revealed yesterday. While the summer as a whole was the third hottest, the summer nights were the warmest on record.

The minimum mean night temperature for June, July and August was 12.4C (55F), 1.5C above the long-term average, and the highest since the Central England Temperature Record began in 1659.

If your memories of the year include late-night dinners in the open air and strolls under the stars, it's no surprise. It was nocturnally warmer, over the whole three months, even than the blistering summer of 1976 which included an astonishing two-week period when the temperature in London reached 32C (90F) every day and never fell below 21C (70F) at night.

But the average night temperature for the summer of 1976 as a whole was only 12.07C, the third hottest on record after 1947 when the figure was 12.3C. During the summer of 1933 the night-time average was also 12.07C. The fifth hottest was 1983 when it was 12.03C followed by 1995 at 12.0C.

Apart from its record daytime temperature of 38.1C (100.6F) set at Gravesend, Kent, on 10 August - which beat the previous 1990 record by a full degree centigrade - summer 2003 was also up near the record for its heat as a whole. It was the joint third hottest summer in Britain, with a mean daytime temperature of 17.5C (63.5F), 2.2C above the long-term average, and beaten only by 1976, when the figure was 17.77C, and 1826, when it was 17.6C.

August this year was the third-hottest on record, averaging 18.8C, 3C above the long-term average, beaten only by 1995 (19.2C) and 1997 (18.9C).

It was the sunniest summer in Britain since 1996 but the Met Office is unable to rank it in the records at present because it is revising its sunshine data set. Although it was fairly dry, the lack of rain was by no means a record. The summer was probably about the 38th driest since reliable rainfall records began in 1766, with 167mm of rain across England and Wales - 83 per cent of the long-term average.

Sean Clarke, a Met Office spokesman, said: "In terms of temperatures it has been a memorable summer, and I think it will stay in people's minds like 1976 or 1995."