Endless summer rekindles memories of '76

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The Independent Online
JOJO MOYES

and LIZ SEARL

The sun must shine for another 19 days and then the phrase on many lips will turn into reality: "It's like the summer of '76 all over again."

Much has been made of the similarities between this year's heatwave and that of 19 years ago. The legendary hot spell of that year began on 15 June and lasted 73 days. This one began on 22 June and has so far lasted 54 days. Average temperatures for June, July and August of that year were 17.8C or 64F. This year's are close behind with 17.6C/63.6F. The highest recorded temperature on the British mainland, however, occurred in neither of those years. It reached 37C/99F on 3 August 1990.

A paltry 49mm of rain fell during June and July in 1976, bringing the appointment of Denis Howell as Minister for Drought. He was assumed to have Messianic qualities when the heavens promptly opened. Nevertheless, water bans were introduced in many regions, with some homes in south- east Wales losing their water supplies for up to 17 hours a day.

Measures so far this year have been less drastic. But hosepipe bans are in place for more than three million homes in the UK, and are threatened in many others as North West Water becomes the latest company to impose restraints. And the worsening air quality - a more serious problem now than in 1976 - the Government has also urged motorists to think twice before using cars as pollution levels soar in the heat.

Forest fires destroyed more than four million trees in 1976. Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour, Dorset, was also closed to the public because of fire risks, and yesterday the same steps were taken by the National Trust.

This year, however, has seen the rise of the mutant animal. On the coast, there are giant jellyfish and, inland, swarms of ladybirds and wasps are plaguing householders. Government wildlife advisers warn of a "giant killer frog epidemic".

But the heatwave of 1976 brought welcome benefits for some. It saw record hours of sunshine and brewing companies enjoyed a rise in demand of between 60 to 80 per cent. Unexpectedly, burglars, lethargic from the heat, failed to take advantage of open doors and windows.

In 1995, however, tourism is booming as Britons decide to holiday at home, and estimated spending by tourists in England has risen by pounds 300m. Sales of ice cream have hit pounds 50m per week.

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