Little Summer? All-hallown summer?

Printer-friendly versionPDF version

Been a run of lovely weather here, most unexpected.  A cold night Monday night - down to 2.5C, but much warmer since so no need for any heating yet, and, astonishingly, the allotment is keeping going. 

Went day before yesterday and picked another courgette - with more flowers coming! The beetroot continue to do well, along with the carrots and onions. Think the beans have really had it now - though the French beans are trying to flower.

Went to the beach with Astra yesterday and had a brilliant time.

There was an item in the paper about "All-hallown summer" which was very interesting

Have you heard of a blackthorn winter, or an All-hallown summer? The English language has a rich vocabulary, concerning weather. We excel with descriptive words.

Some terms, such as All-hallown summer, have now died out, but in Shakespeare's time British people used this to describe a period of unseasonable warmth around All hallows day (1st November). Mid-October warm spells were known as St Luke's summer (St Luke's day is on 18th October) and mid-November sunshine was St Martin's summer (St Martin's day is on 11th November). Other terms have a more local origin, such as blackthorn winter – a term used to describe cold dry winds in the Thames Valley in March and April. Meanwhile a Robin Hood's wind is the Yorkshire term for a raw north–easterly wind, coming from the direction of the village of Robin Hood's Bay.

Scotland has a rich weather vocabulary too, perhaps because it is on the receiving end of so much weather. Short snow squalls are called bluffarts, while rain squalls are known as blads. A gust of wind from the land is a flan and a sudden emergence of a storm is a blout. Meanwhile, if the weather dares to be changeable it is blirty, and a heavy fall of snow is a kaavie.

My personal favourite is dimpsey – a dull, wet and drizzly day in Cornwall or Devon. The word rolls nicely off the tongue and somehow makes a damp grey day easier to bear.


and another piece of

Some claim that an Indian summer cannot come until after the first damaging frost of autumn, or after a severely cold episode sometimes known as a "Squaw Winter".

People in a park

A spell of autumnal warm weather was once linked to the church calendar

In the UK, weather observers knew of the American usage from the mid-19th Century onwards, but the expression did not gain wide currency until the 1950s. Famous 20th Century climatologists such as Ernest Bilham, Gordon Manley and Hubert Lamb did not use it in their extensive writings, except when referring to the American phenomenon.

Once established though, it quickly became linked to those spells of unseasonably warm weather which occur from time to time during the autumn.

The latest edition of the Meteorological Glossary defines it thus: "A warm, calm spell of weather occurring in autumn, especially in October and November." So, it is most commonly used in those two months, but the idea of such a spell starting in late-September is not necessarily precluded.

Before the middle of the last century, such a spell of fine weather would be linked to ancient weather lore and the church calendar.

In mid-October, for instance, it would have been called "St Luke's Little Summer" as the feast day of St Luke falls on 18 October, while in mid-November it would be "St Martin's Summer" as St Martin's feast day is 11 November.

Shakespeare also used the expression "All Halloween Summer" in Henry IV part I for a period of warm sunshine as October gives way to November. A more generic but now (sadly) politically incorrect idiom is "Old Wives' Summer".

All these expressions may still be heard in various parts of Britain, but chiefly in remote rural areas. Though they are naturally much less common than they were 60 or 70 years ago.

The idea there are particular times of the autumn in Britain when these warm spells might recur is a fanciful one. Detailed statistical analyses do not suggest that any one week is more favoured than any other, and in a few years autumn brings relentlessly disturbed weather with a progressive drop in temperature, and there is nothing remotely Indian summer-like at all.