A balmy celebration

Can we expect a sunny Olympics?

Full print version, including charts and tables

The British obsession with the weather is no doubt due to its unpredictability.

As the date of the opening ceremony for the 2012 London Olympics approaches, the host nation will begin to worry about what the weather holds for that day, July 27th, and the following weeks.

English weather statistics offer some of the longest consistent time series in the world. Daily mean temperatures for central England are available back to 1772 and daily maximums and minimums from 1878. Since 1772 the warmest July 27th was in the Olympic year of 1948 when the mean temperature across the region was 21.9oC, while the two coldest both happened in the 19th century: mean temperatures of 10.6oC and 11.0oC were recorded in 1867 and 1823 respectively.

Since 1931, July 27th has been rain free in the south-east of England on 38 occasions out of 70, and the average daily rainfall has been 1.4mm. On average, it has been the 48th driest day of the year.

The weather for the 1908 and 1948 opening ceremonies was characteristically inconsistent. The 1948 ceremony was, “a perfect day with a blazing sun to welcome the teams and the spectators”, and the central England series records a maximum temperature of 31.6oC, which at the time was the highest since such records began in 1878. In 1908, by contrast, ‘there was not much sunshine, but the rain of the morning held off during most of the afternoon’.

On the whole, the weather during the two previous Games does not augur well for this one. Many of the events during the first week of the 1908 Games were held in atrocious conditions. The official report describes the clay pigeon shoot thus:-

“The specially constructed trench at Uxendon had, by careful planning, been placed so that the July sunlight should not shine in the eyes of the shooters. A more necessary precaution, in the dark weather experienced, was to insure that the birds should be clearly visible. For this purpose the ‘targets’… were marked with whitewash, so as to present a black and white ‘magpie’ appearance.”

While the 1948 Games opened with exceptionally hot weather, the second week was plagued by rainstorms. The official report pities the cameramen in the dugouts at Wembley Stadium ‘working up to their knees in water and drenched from head to foot’, while pictures show a waterlogged track and a sea of umbrellas in the spectator stands.

So-called summer
The chart shows the average daily maximum and minimum temperatures and rainfall recorded across Southern England during each summer since 1910.

The chart shows the average daily maximum and minimum temperatures and rainfall recorded across Southern England during each summer since 1910

 

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