1976 United Kingdom heat wave

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Lyme Regis Beach, Dorset, August 1976

The 1976 United Kingdom heat wave led to the hottest summer average temperature in the UK since records began. At the same time, the country suffered a severe drought.[1][2] It was one of the driest, sunniest and warmest summers (June/July/August) in the 20th century, although 1995 is now regarded as the driest. Only a few places registered more than half their average summer rainfall. In the CET record, it was the warmest summer in that series. It was the warmest summer in the Aberdeen area since at least 1864. It was the driest summer since 1868 in Glasgow.[3]

Heatwave and drought effects[edit]

Heathrow had 16 consecutive days over 30 °C (86 °F) from 23 June to 8 July[4] and for 15 consecutive days from 23 June to 7 July temperatures reached 32.2 °C (90 °F) somewhere in England. Furthermore, five days saw temperatures exceed 35 °C (95 °F). On 28 June, temperatures reached 35.6 °C (96.1 °F) in Southampton, the highest June temperature recorded in the UK. The hottest day of all was 3 July, with temperatures reaching 35.9 °C (96.6 °F) in Cheltenham, one of the hottest July days on record in the UK.

The great drought was due to a very long dry period. The summer and autumn of 1975 were very dry, and the winter of 1975–76 was exceptionally dry, as was the spring of 1976; indeed, some months during this period had no rain at all in some areas.

The drought was at its most severe in August 1976. Parts of the south west went 45 days without any rain in July and August. As the hot and dry weather continued, devastating heath and forest fires broke out in parts of Southern England. 50,000 trees were destroyed at Hurn Forest in Dorset. Crops were badly hit, with £500 million worth of crops failing. Food prices subsequently increased by 12%.[5]

In the last week of August, days after Denis Howell was appointed 'Minister for Drought', severe thunderstorms brought rain to some places for the first time in weeks. September and October 1976 were both very wet months, bringing to an end the great drought of 1975–1976.

Government response[edit]

Burrator Reservoir in Devon, July 1976. Many reservoirs, like this one, were at a very low level

The effect on domestic water supplies led to the passing of a Drought Act by parliament and Minister for Drought, Denis Howell, was appointed.[6] There was widespread water rationing and public standpipes in some affected areas. Reservoirs were at an extremely low level, as were some rivers. The rivers Don, Sheaf, Shire Brook and Meers Brook (all in Sheffield) all ran completely dry, without a drop of water in any of them, as well as Frecheville Pond and Carterhall Pond (Carterhall Pond was permanently dry until 2007, when floods hit, and has not dried since[citation needed]).


In the Central England Temperature series 1976 has the hottest summer for more than 350 years and probably for much longer. The average temperature over the whole summer (June, July, August) was 17.77 °C, compared to the average for the unusually warm current decade (2001–2008) of 16.30 °C.[7] There have in other years been hotter specific summer months, though.

The summer was so hot that it is embedded in the national psyche, with subsequent heatwaves in 1995,[8] 1997,[9] 2001,[10] 2003 and 2006[11] all using 1976 as a benchmark.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The drought of 1976". BBC News. Retrieved 20 May 2011. 
  2. ^ Cox, Evelyn Cox (1978). The Great Drought of 1976. Hutchinson, Readers Union Group. 
  3. ^ http://booty.org.uk/booty.weather/climate/1975_1999.htm
  4. ^ http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climate/uk/interesting/aug03maxtemps.html
  5. ^ http://archive.thisiswiltshire.co.uk/2001/7/4/214711.html This Is Wiltshire
  6. ^ Longman, Phil (17 March 2004). "Was 1976 all it's cracked up to be?". BBC News. Retrieved 20 May 2011. 
  7. ^ http://www.hadobs.org Seasonal rankings
  8. ^ "The summer of '76". BBC News. 20 March 1998. Retrieved 20 May 2011. 
  9. ^ "Government warns of water shortages". BBC News. 4 November 1997. Retrieved 20 May 2011. 
  10. ^ "UK swelters in Bank Holiday heat". BBC News. 25 August 2001. Retrieved 20 May 2011. 
  11. ^ Coughlan, Sean (14 July 2006). "Is 2006 the new 1976?". BBC News. Retrieved 20 May 2011. 


  • The Great Drought of 1976. Evelyn Cox (1978). Hutchinson, Readers Union Group ISBN 0-09-133200-1