1976 heatwave UK: how long did it last, what temperatures did it reach vs 2022 summer highs - how hot was it?

The extreme weather of 1976 led to a drought - and now another has been declared owing to the driest July on record in 2022
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A drought has been declared in parts of the UK following weeks of extreme temperatures and no rain.

There’s one thing people always remember about 1976; the heat - but in 2022 it’s got even hotter.

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The heatwave, which took place 46 years ago, was one of the longest in living memory and triggered the most significant drought for at least the last 150 years.

But, now another one has been declared in response to the extreme temperatures the UK is currently experiencing, there are hosepipe bans in place across the country and the Met Office has delcared an amber weather warning.

So, what exactly happened during the 1976 heatwave, how long did it last, just how hot did it get - and could it get even hotter this year?

Here’s what you need to know.

People relaxing on a summer day during the heatwave of summer 1976. People relaxing on a summer day during the heatwave of summer 1976.
People relaxing on a summer day during the heatwave of summer 1976.

What happened during the summer 1976 heatwave?

The summer of 1976 saw the second hottest summer average temperatures in the UK since records began in and around 1910.

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It was one of the driest, sunniest and warmest summers, through June, July and August, of the 20th century.

Prior to 1976, the heatwave of 1955 took the record of the hottest summer, with a high temperature of 33.8 °C recorded in the UK.

The hottest summer before that was reported to be in 1826.

The summer was so hot that it is widely remembered across the UK, with subsequent heatwaves in 1995,1997, 2003, 2006 and 2018 all being compared to that of 1976. The 2022 heatwaves have also been compared to 1976.

How hot were the temperatures in 1976?

The hottest temperature recorded during the summer of 1976 was 35.9 °C.

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Heathrow had 16 consecutive days over 30 °C, from 23 June to 8 July, and for 15 consecutive days from 23 June to 7 July temperatures reached 32.2 °C elsewhere in England.

In total, temperatures exceeded 35 °C on five days.

On 28 June, temperatures reached 35.6 °C in Southampton, the highest June temperature recorded in the UK.

The hottest day of all was 3 July, with temperatures reaching 35.9 °C in Cheltenham.

Were there deaths due to the 1976 heatwave?

Yes, people did die as a result of the heatwave.

The 1976 heatwave is believed to have been the cause of 20% excess deaths.

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There were also significantly more hospital emergency admissions from 24 June to 8 July 1976 than for the same period in 1975 or 1974.

Was there a drought during the summer of 1976?

The soaring temperatures led to their being a severe drought in the summer of 1976.

The effect on domestic water supplies led to the passing of a Drought Act 1976 by parliamentand Minister for Drought, Denis Howell, was appointed.

There was widespread water rationing and public standpipes in some affected areas.

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Reservoirs were at an extremely low level, as were some rivers. The rivers Don, Sheaf, Shire Brook and Meers Brook, which are all in Sheffield, ran completely dry.

The drought was at its most severe in August of that year.

Parts of the south west went 45 days without any rain in July and August. Forest fires broke out in parts of Southern England.

In total, 50,000 trees were destroyed at Hurn Forest in Dorset.

Crops were also badly hit, with £500 million worth of crops failing, and this led to food prices increasing.

When did the summer heatwave of 1976 end?

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In the last week of August 1976, days after Denis Howell was appointed Minister for Drought,  severe thunderstorms brought rain to some places in the UK for the first time in weeks.

The two months that followed, September and October 1976 were both very wet months.

That officially brought the 1976 heatwave to an end.

Did it get even hotter in 2022 than in 1976?

Temperatures in London and parts of central England soared to 40°C on Monday 18 July and 19 Tuesday July, beating the temperature records reached in 1976.

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