Weather wise

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The Independent Online
MAY has been a pretty good month so far, if you enjoy warm, dry and sunny weather. On the 13th, Southampton, Hampshire, recorded 29C, the highest temperature seen so far this year anywhere in the United Kingdom.

Clear skies, temperatures in southern England generally into the 20s, and very little rainfall - these conditions are the result of a persistent high pressure system over the British Isles, bringing in light southerly winds.

Hot and sunny Mays are not unusual in Britain. We tend to assume that July and August are the most reliable months for summer weather (and plan our holidays accordingly) but, in fact, both months - and August especially - are characterised by warm but damp air brought in by Atlantic depressions. August is often a terrible month, rivalling December for wetness and frequently being no warmer than April or October. But, ever optimistic, we trek off en masse to the seaside with bucket, spade and sun-tan oil, when what we'll really need is wellies and a sou'wester.

May, in contrast, often sets in fair, as high pressure dominates following the April storms, bringing quiet weather, high temperatures (in the day - May nights can be chilly) and very little rain.

And the trend towards warm Mays could becoming more marked. In the past 10 years, six Mays have had unusually hot and dry weather over a significant proportion of the country. In 1989, an exceptionally warm May (and a blazing summer) followed a cold and snowy April (but an extremely mild winter), a fairly common pattern that seems to be repeating itself this year.

Only in 1996, during the past decade, have May temperatures been significantly below average.