This week of all weeks, one might expect the climate alarmists to be very happy. It’s all going according to plan. Europe is sizzling under a heat dome, the UK has seen new record high temperatures, the mainstream media (with the BBC and the Guardian cheerleading the way, as ever) has done little other than bang on about heat and climate change for days now. So what’s the problem?
1976, it seems, is the problem. The long, hot, dry summer, the drought, the standpipes in the streets, the empty reservoirs, Dennis Howell appointed as Minister of Drought, pesky old-timers who actually remember it and never stop banging on about it – it all irks, it annoys, it gets in the way of the message.
It shouldn’t, of course. It’s indisputable that the climate is changing (as it always has done, one way or another). It’s obvious that global temperatures are increasing. But then, but then….Annoyingly, records seem to be inconveniently associated with airports (Heathrow keeps popping up) and airfields (I wonder why the BBC report claiming a new record high at Coninsgby failed to mention that it was actually at RAF Coninsgby?). Hmm, that might be a problem. And so much of the heat seems to be in cities – that might allow pesky deniers to keep talking about Urban Heat Islands. Then there’s the satellite data, which inconveniently refuse to show temperatures rising at the rates claimed in other temperature datasets. And some UK politicians have started being a bit flaky about net zero. No, best to keep the pressure on, and give them nowhere to turn.
And so, it seems, a decision has been taken to rubbish claims that 1976 was very hot, or at least that it was anything like as hot as now. Were you around in 1976? Do you remember weeks and weeks on end of unbroken sunshine and sweltering temperatures? Well, maybe it wasn’t quite how you remember it. It was a long time ago, after all. Perhaps you’ve misremembered just a bit. As have all those other people of your age who also seem to think it was extraordinarily hot.
Is it a coincidence that the BBC report (UK heatwave: How do temperatures compare with 1976?) and the Guardian report (Yes, Britain had a heatwave in 1976. No, it was nothing like the crisis we’re in now) with sub-title “As a climate scientist, I’m tired of hearing about that summer) (yes, I bet you are) attacking beliefs about 1976 came out within a few hours of each other?
The BBC version set itself up as a fact check, and was produced by its Reality Check Team. The main problem with it is that it adopted a now common strategy with BBC fact-checking articles, namely it failed to address the key points and concentrated instead on setting up and attacking straw men. Thus we are told things such as this:
The comparison with the 1976 heatwave has also proven popular among users sharing conspiracy theories – including unfounded claims that a “climate lockdown” is about to be imposed.
At the risk of repeating myself, the extraordinary aspect of the summer of 1976 was its sheer extent. By which I mean how long it lasted, the fact that much of the country – the entire UK – was affected (as opposed to bits of London and the south east of England), and how many consecutive days were very hot (even if not up to this year’s few record-breaking days). And most of this highly germane information is ignored or side-stepped by the BBC report, which simply tells us instead:
The peak that year  was 35.9C. That has been beaten by the current temperatures, with 40.3C recorded so far.
The heatwave of 1976 started in June and lasted for two months. There was a lack of rainfall and a significant drought, with the government enforcing water rationing.
The heatwave was rare for that decade. The average maximum temperature in July in the 1970s was 18.7C. In the 2010s, it was more than 20C.
It seems to me that if you’re writing an article about the extraordinary summer of 1976, drilling down to discuss the average maximum temperature in July (as opposed to a whole summer) in the 1970s (as opposed to 1976) is a (deliberately?) misleading distraction. Why not discuss at length just how extraordinary that summer was?
Even the Guardian article managed to include the rather salient fact that “[t]emperatures topped 32C (89.6F) somewhere in the UK for 15 days on the trot”. You might have thought that a BBC “fact-checking” article would have mentioned that fact. But it didn’t. And, by the way, that reference to “…somewhere in the UK for 15 days on the trot” is worthy of mention. It wasn’t that somewhere near Heathrow Airport registered 15 consecutive days of 32C+ heat, but that those temperature recordings were coming in from all over the place. It was hot almost everywhere. Or should I say almost everywhere in the UK.
It seems it wasn’t hot everywhere in Europe. And so the BBC sets up another straw man to knock down:
That summer , the UK and France were among a handful of countries experiencing high temperatures.
But if you look at the heat maps (produced by NASA) for June 2022, it shows many more countries affected.
I don’t set out to argue with that, but I do point out that it is once again a deflection technique. Those of us who were there and remember it vividly, and tediously point out that the summer of 1976 in the UK was extraordinary aren’t arguing that the climate globally isn’t changing. We’re just pointing out that for most people in most of the UK, no summer (including this one) has come remotely close to challenging 1976 for its sheer intensity and endurance. And I suppose that’s the problem – the establishment is trying to scare the UK citizenry into agreeing to continue committing unilateral economic disarmament (per Kemi Badenoch MP). Instead, complaining that we don’t have any need to do that in the UK because things here aren’t so bad, and were “worse” 46 years ago is a dangerous message. And so it has to be comprehensively rubbished.
In fairness to the Guardian, although its report also seeks to highlight global warming and global weather as a means by which to downplay the 1976 story, it does at least give us a little more honesty and detail:
1976 was undeniably a hot summer. A really hot summer, in fact. Temperatures topped 32C (89.6F) somewhere in the UK for 15 days on the trot, climbing to a maximum of 35.9C on 3 July.
That said, I do have to take issue with this sentence:
Contrast that to July 2022, and there are few places on Earth where temperatures are not considerably above average.
Actually, much of the southern hemisphere is experiencing an unusually cold winter:
Residents in Western Australia’s Kimberley region have shivered through one of the coldest starts to July on record, with some areas reporting record low day and night temperatures for the month, says the ABC News website.
Electroverse tells us that:
On the morning of Thursday, May 27, New Zealand suffered a wave of historical cold.
A powerful Antarctica air mass brought the mercury plunging to -8.8C (16F) at Dunedin International Airport, which is located in the SE of the South Island at an elevation of 1.2 m (4 ft).
This reading ties the all time lowest temperature EVER recorded at the airport (set in both May 1988 and July 2007), in record books dating back to 1963.
And it’s pretty cold in South America too, as The Watchers website tells us:
A powerful Antarctic cold mass is bringing unprecedented cold, record snow, and frosts to parts of South America, such as Argentina and Brazil.
In Brazil, one of the strongest polar air masses in the past years is starting to make temperatures drop in the Rio Grande do Sul. According to MetSul, the cold is forecast to intensify, and its coverage will be very large in South America, spreading across many countries.
MetSul also warned of severe frosts that will continue to impact much of Brazil, causing significant damage. Very rare snow is predicted for the country’s southern region and outside the high plains.
“All numerical models analyzed by MetSul indicate the occurrence of snow in southern Brazil in this polar cold event,” wrote MetSul.
In Argentina, a cold spell and rare snow have been reported in the provinces of Buenos Aires and Santa Fe this week. The observatory in the capital registered a daily high record of 8.5 °C (47.3 °F) on June 27, followed by historic overnight lows.
On June 28, several areas registered their coldest mornings this year, including -4 °C (24.8 °F) in Mendoza Aero, -4.4 °C (24 °F) in Mendoza Obs, -3.9 °C (25 °F) in Saint Martin, -6.9 °C (19.6 °F) in San Rafael, and -11.7 °C (10.9 °F) in Malargue.
The freezing temperatures and record snow has been ongoing in the country for weeks. On June 16, snow fell in Cordoba for the seventh time in 100 years, and it was also the first time the city was covered in white in 14 years.
Of course, this is weather, not climate, but please, Guardian, can we have the full facts?
However, I digress. Back to the Guardian article. Unfortunately, it also seeks to confuse the issue of day after day after of heat with individual daily heat records. And so we are told:
And this record-breaking year  is just one in a series of record-breaking years. Nine of the top 10 hottest UK days on record have been since 1990. And 1976 isn’t the odd one out in that list: it doesn’t even make the cut.
But one hot day does not a summer make. Summer is generally regarded as being June, July and August in the UK. Let’s look at the summer as a whole:
1976 Summer Data
Not surprisingly, Wikipedia has a page devoted to the summer of 1976, or (as it styles it) 1976 British Isles Heat Wave (which seems a very accurate description). Unashamedly, I borrow from Wikipedia some of the salient details:
It was one of the driest, sunniest and warmest summers (June/July/August) in the 20th century, although the summer of 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 the series until being surpassed in the 21st century.
It was the warmest summer in the Aberdeen area since at least 1864, and the driest summer since 1868 in Glasgow
Heathrow had 16 consecutive days over 30°C (86°F) from 23 June to 8 Julyand 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.
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 and in response Parliament passed the Drought Act 1976 to ration water.
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 [I assume at 1976 prices]. Food prices subsequently increased by 12%.
The Haweswater reservoir had only 10% of its water left; people walked dryshod on its bed 60 feet (18m) below its normal water level. The site of the flooded village of Mardale Green was dry. Ladybower reservoir in Derbyshire dried out and revealed the flooded villages of Ashopton and Derwent, it was possible to make out the village layout and garden walls.
In Ireland the temperature reached 32.5°C (90.5°F) in County Offaly on 29 June 1976. There were also gorse fires in County Wicklow.
In the Central England Temperature series, 1976 is the hottest summer for more than 350 years. The average temperature over the whole summer (June, July, August) was 17.77°C (63.99°F), compared to the average for the unusually warm years between 2001–2008 of 16.30°C (61.34°F).
From all that detail, I think it’s worth noting that the summer of 1975 was also very hot and dry, the winter that sandwiched the summers of 1975 and 1976 was dry, as was the spring of 1976. No doubt it goes some way to explain the severity of the drought in the summer of 1976.
The other takeaway point is that if one doesn’t obsess about individual daily records, and looks at the summer as a whole, then an anomaly of +1.47C is apparent when compared to the “unusually warm” years between 2001-2008. That really is quite something. Especially if one considers that the population of the UK in 1976 was c. 56.2 million, compared to a UK population today of c. 67.9 million. With the population having increased by around 20% since 1976, the urban sprawl contributing to the urban heat island effect today must be noticeable. And many airports (where so many heat records seem conveniently to be set) will also have expanded considerably during the last 46 years.
The summer of 2022 is of course only half-way through. However, by this stage in 1976 we were already remarking, where I then lived in the north of England, how hot and prolonged it was (and it still had quite some way to go). This year, by contrast, we’ve had a pretty poor spring, a thoroughly indifferent June, and two very hot days in July where I now live (in a different part of the north of the England, though on roughly the same line of latitude). The heatwave (do two days constitute a heatwave?) is over, and the following day saw pleasant summer temperatures (very low 20sC). It’s as well that we made the most of them, for looking at the 14 day weather forecast on the BBC website, all I see ahead is quite a lot of rain, and a highest temperature of 19C (with a few highs of 16C thrown in). By the time that forecast period is over, it will be August. It seems highly unlikely that the summer of 2022 will come anywhere close to the summer of 1976 in the UK as a whole.
The irony is that the remarkable nature of the summer of 1976 (following as it did hot on the heels of a very warm and dry summer in 1975) proves nothing. It was weather, albeit exceptional weather. Those of who lived through it will never forget it, and will probably never see its like again (whatever the doom-mongers tell us). Still, so what? Climate is about long-term trends. So why are the BBC and the Guardian so desperate to down-play it? Do they fear they’re losing the battle for hearts and minds? Is net zero a fantasy now in the UK, as reality bites? One thing we can be sure of is that they won’t give up without one heck of a fight, as the assault on the memory of 1976 demonstrates very clearly.