Weather Wise

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WHY do we tend to remember the summers of our youth as more summery, and the winters as more wintry, than the ones of today?

One possibility is that our childhood memories are based on sound meteorological data. The very old might just recall the glorious summer of 1911. Those a little younger could well have their youthful memories of cloudless days at the beach enhanced by a run of unusually warm summers in 1947, 1949, 1955 and 1959. Then there were the heatwaves of 1975 and 1976, which have been etched into the childhood memories of today's thirtysomethings (tomorrow's thirtysomethings could well be talking about the record-breaking heatwave of 1990).

As far as winters go, the general consensus is that there is far less snow around than there used to be. Indeed, between 1987 and 1992 no snow at all fell in many parts of southern England. But in 1993, much of southern Britain had its first white Christmas for 23 years.

Obviously, we tend to remember extremes of heat and cold rather than washout summers and warm winters. Who recalls the mild winter of 1988/89? Or the wet summer of 1980? As Robin Stirling points out in The Weather of Britain, we may have a distorted view of childhood climate for a number of reasons. First, until fairly recently, houses in Britain tended not to be centrally heated and we tended to spend a lot more time out of doors. So cold winters would have impinged on our consciousness far more than today.

Second, children are often highly tolerant to cold - so that "hot sunny" day on the beach you remember may well have been a rain-lashed nightmare for your poor parents huddled under a blanket on the deckchairs. Finally, and simply, children are short. So the snow will have seemed deeper.