Weather wise

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The Independent Online
WHEN ASKED if there is anything at all that they dislike about living in Britain, even the most fervent and narrow-minded patriot usually mumbles something about the "terrible weather'" and admits grudgingly that, while the food may be garlicky and the plumbing suspect, the climate found "abroad" is far superior.

Which is odd, because the British Isles have some of the best weather in the world. I believe it was Winston Churchill who once remarked that our green and pleasant land was a great place, because it was possible to do something out of doors every day of the year. Rarely is it too cold. The lowest recorded temperature stands at a mere -29.2C, a point on the thermometer that would have an average Russian reaching for his gloves, then putting them back in the drawer for fear of being thought a big girl's blouski. Rarely it is too hot, and it rains, by and large, just the right amount. Hurricanes, tornadoes and other nastinesses are almost unheard of.

Despite the fact that we talk about it all the time and devote whole daily newspaper columns to it, Britain has very little heavy-duty weather at all - just a climate that may be fairly described as "Pleasant Sub- Ideal'' (If you want perfection, try the Canary Islands or San Diego - which, according to a recent American quality-of-life index, have the most pleasant climates on the planet).

It is all because of the Gulf Stream - or more accurately, the North Atlantic Drift. This tepid current sweeps warm and damp air from the sub- tropical Atlantic, mitigating the effects of our northerly latitude. Between 50 and 60 degrees north, the latitude of the British Isles, most of the planet has a very different climate. Newfoundland, central Canada and a swathe of Siberia lie in this belt, and all have pigs of a climate, with sweaty, mosquito-ridden summers and freeze-your-eyelids-shut winters.

But if we have (almost) the best weather, who has the worst? It is hard to find a rival for Antarctica. The whole continent is a giant deep freeze. The record low, -89.2C on the Vostock Plateau in July 1983, almost beggars belief. Not only do your eyelids freeze shut, but the jelly inside your eyeballs starts to crystallise - a most unpleasant experience, according to polar explorers and scientists.

One place that sells itself on its intemperate clime is the top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire. The visitors' centre at the summit proudly proclaims this place as having ''The Worst Weather In The World!''. In 1934 a wind speed of 231mph was recorded at the summit. Temperatures plummet to -30C. It rains incessantly, it snows, it is frosty. Strangely though, when I went there it was a pleasant 21C, with a light breeze and cheery sunshine. I felt like asking for my money back. Maybe the gods knew an Englishman was coming.