The Summer of '69

The summer of '69.....immortalized in song, the summer of Woodstock and student riots, the first men on the moon, the deployment of British troops in Northern Ireland, Colonel Gadaffi taking control of Libya, Monty Python's Flying Circus only weeks away from it's first airing....but what was the weather like??

June 1969 was a rather mixed month; conditions started off on the cool and unsettled side but in many places much of the first half of the month went on to be fine, dry and warm. Much of the second half of the month, however, went to be rather unsettled and quite windy at times too. Overall, June 1969 was a touch cooler than normal yet at times same time sunnier than normal (London Weather Centre, for example, recorded their sunniest June in 40 years), and in spite of being rather unsettled at times taking England and Wales as a whole conditions were drier than average.

July 1969 saw a considerable improvement over southern and easterm Britain where after an unsettled start much of the month was dry, sunny and warm before unsettled weather and some heavy rain returned at the end of the month. Northern and western Britain saw rain at times through the month. Taking the month as a whole conditions were sunnier, drier and warmer than normal.

August 1969 started off very unsettled and then went on to be a mixed month with unsettled spells of weather interspersed by periods of fine weather. The month was also warm at first and cooler later. The month turned out to be warmer than normal but a little duller than average in England and Wales, East Anglia, for example, averaged less than 4 hours sun per day (Ogley et al. 1993), whilst rainfall was close to normal. In Scotland it was the warmest August since 1959 and one of Glasgow's sunniest Augusts since records began there in 1881.

With a Central England Temperature series (CET) value of 15.7, compared to the 1961-1990 average of 15.33, the summer of 1969 was, at the time of wrting in early 2002, the joint 100th warmest (or joint 183rd coldest) since records began in 1659 and 30th warmest of the 20th century. Taking a month by month look at the summer, June turned out to be a little on the cool side with a CET of 13.9 compared to an average of 14.1, and was in fact very close to being one of the coldest 100 June's on record. However, July and August more than compensated for a cool June. The July CET was 16.8, compared to the 1961-1990 average of 16.1C, whilst the August CET 16.4C, 0.6C above average. Both July and August were between the 70th and 80th warmest on record, and both month's were just among the 30 warmest Julys and Augusts of the 20th century. So temperaturewise the summer of 1969 was clearly nothing to write home about.

As far as precipitation goes, the England Wales Rainfall series (EWR) value for the summer was 66.03, just shy of the 1960-1991 average of 68.0. The summer of 1969 is, in fact, the 76th driest (or 159th wettest) summer on record (records go back to 1766). Nationally June was a dry month with a EWR of 51.3 compared to an average of 65.0, making June 1969 almost one of the 80 driest on record and among the 40 driest Junes of the 20th century. July, on the other hand, was wetter than normal; the EWR is 70.3, compared to the average of 62.0, but even so July 1969 was very close to being among the 100 driest Julys on record, and in the 20th century almost 50 Julys were wetter than that of 1969. With an EWR of 76.5 compared to the average of 77.0 August 1969 was very average, and just about one of the driest 100 Augusts on record as well as being very close to being one of the driest 40 Augusts in the 20th century. So, like temperature, precipitation during the summer of '69 was also nothing to shout from the rooftops about.

However, the problem with using a series like the EWR is that whilst it gives an excellent national trend, local varaitions are damped out. Summer rainfall is often convective in nature and characterized by local downpours so we find that rarely a summer month goes by without one or two places recording a huge monthly rainfall total in comparison to other places in the vicinity simply because a thunderstorm happened to be particularly severe over that place or sufficiently localized to cause a huge dumping of rain on just a few spots leaving the rest of the country untouched.  Consequently we find that whilst nationally the summer was about average as far as precipitation goes locally it was a slightly different tale. In 1969 it was of course no different; for example, in June 1969 parts of the east coast from Lincolnshire to Aberdeenshire recorded around 75% more rain than average, whilst parts of the Midlands and central southern England were very dry and received less than half their average June rainfall. Similarly in July 1969 parts of southern Cornwall and the Thames Estuary recorded more than double their average July rainfall, whilst eastern Scotland, North Wales, Cheshire and Lancashire recorded less than half their average July rainfall and in Weston Super Mare no rainfall was recorded at all until the last 3 or 4 days of the month.

All in all I think it would be fair to say that the summer of 1969 was pretty average; slightly warmer than average and a tad drier than normal to boot. Locally there were some quite spectacular downpours (see below!) though and the best spell of fine summer weather was over southern and eastern Britain through much of July. Doesn't sound to different to the summers we get nowadays really does it!!!!!

Memorable Days
OK, so we've seen that the summer of 1969 was pretty average. Meteorologically speaking. Obviously putting men on the moon and immortalizing it in a catchy rock song was of course something else. Still, there were a few memorable days weather..........

13th June - London reached 28C
14th and 15th June - Thunderstorms in Yorkshire led to localized flooding. On the 14th there were also some thunderstorms over the Cotswolds. These storms lifted up some red worms and deposited them in some villages just to the north of the Cotswolds (Damari 1995). In other words it rained red worms!!!
16th June - A deep low close to the UK produced 50mph gusts in some western parts
17th June - Milford Haven in south-western Wales recorded 41mm rain
18th June - Exeter recorded 32mm rain
21st and 22nd June - Kew Gardens started both days with a touch of ground frost
23rd and 24th June - Widespread heavy rain affected the country

6th and 7th July - Close to half the amount of rain that would fall on average in the whole of July fell over parts of south-eastern England. Doddington in Kent, for example, recorded 73.4mm rain in 24 hours. The 6th was much of Norfolk and eastern Suffolk's wettest day of the year, and also the wettest day of the year for some parts of south-eastern England. 50mm rain fell in the Ipswich area and close to 40mm fell in the Colchester area. Winds gusted to 57 knots on Jersey on the 7th.
16th July - The hottest day of the year; Letchworth (Herts.) reaches 32.8C whilst Greenwich (London), Oakington (near Cambridge) and Wittering (near Peterborough) reach 33C.
21st July - A great leap for mankind as man sets foot on the moon for the first time. A complex low close to Iceland and a high centered close to Britanny produced a south-westerly flow over the UK and led to some dull and damp weather in some western and northern parts whilst southern and eastern Britain was dry and sunny with temperatures as high as the 29C in Manby (Lincs.).
25th July - Galashiels in southern Scotland and Edinbuirgh Airport awoke to a touch of ground frost.
27th to 29th July - Heavy rain affected most of England and Wales. The 28th was the wettest day of the year in many parts of north-eastern England, Yorkshire, the Midlands, south-western England, south Wales and the Severn river Basin area and in a few places in Essex too. For example, 30-40mm fell in the Scarborough, Hornsea and Birmingham areas whilst 45-50mm fell in Hull and around 55mm in the Lincoln area. The south-west was much wetter; in Weston Super Mare it was the first measureable rainfall in 30 days. Close to 140mm rain fell at South Cott Cross (Devon) and North Hessary Tor (Cornwall) whilst between 10am on the 28th and 10am on the 29th 113.3mm rain fell in 24 hours at Plymouth, at the time (and possibly still now) their wettest 24 hour period since records began in 1921. Elbridge (near Saltash) recorded 145mm rain during the same 24 hour period. The 29th was the wettest day of the year in parts of Cambridgeshire, the East Midlands and Essex.

1st to 3rd August - Flooding and heavy rain in south-eastern England. Here, and in parts of south central England, London and Northamptonshire the 2nd was the wettest day of the year. Slough, for example, recorded 97mm rain on the 2nd whilst Northolt and Heathrow in London recorded 64mm and 57mm rain respectively. 50mm rain fell in Abingdon (Oxon.) and Odiham (Hants.) recorded 66mm rain.
11th and 12th August - Hot then really unsettled; Liphook (Hants.) and Lakenheath (Suffolk) reached 31C on the 11th before a depression moving slowly over the UK led to wet weather in most places on the 12th. Parts of Yorkshire recorded 70-80mm rain, Langsett Reservoir, for example, saw 81mm rain from this bout of unsettled weather, whilst between 1900 on the 11th and 1900 on the 12th 52.6mm rain fell in Exeter.
14th and 15th August - Prolonged thunderstorms in Kent led to a fall of 120.4mm rain in Manston (near Ramsgate) in the 29 hours between 1800 on the 14th and 2300 on the 15th, 49mm of which fell in just one hour between 0900 and 1000 on the 15th.

The Summer of '69 in Other Parts of the World
Whilst Britain suffered (?!) a rather average summer with localized heavy downpours in 1969, Scandinavia had an unusually dry and sunny summer (Jovicic 1970). In Sweden it was up to that point one of the warmest and driest summers of the 20th century and in both Sweden and Denmark agricultural yields were affected by drought. In western and central Europe the early summer was cool and at Montsouris in Paris temperatures on the 7th July reached just 16.6C, then the lowest July maximum since records began in 1873.

DAMARI, P. (1995): The Herefordshire and Worcestershire Weather Book., Countryside Books, pp127.
HMSO (1979): Monthly and Annual Totals of Rainfall 1969 for the United Kingdom.. HMSO, pp101.
JOVICIC, S. (1970): Exceptional European weather events in 1969. Weather, pp. 507-510.
OGLEY, B., DAVISON, M. and CURRIE, I. (1993) The Norfolk and Suffolk Weather Book., Froglets Publications, pp176.
Weather Log June 1969
Weather Log July 1969
Weather Log August 1969

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Dan Suri, 23 January 2002