Why is it called an Indian Summer? Meaning, definition, what is it, origin, will there be one in the UK?

(Photo: Getty Images)(Photo: Getty Images)
(Photo: Getty Images) | Getty Images
During an Indian Summer temperatures rise - creating a brief return to summery conditions

As September ushers in the first hints of autumn, meteorological forecasts have ignited discussions about the possibility of an 'Indian Summer' gracing the British Isles, offering a temporary respite from the encroaching chill.

But what exactly is an 'Indian Summer'? What are the historical origins of the phrase, and why won't September's anticipated heatwave might not technically qualify as a genuine 'Indian Summer'?

Here is everything you need to know abotu it.

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What is an Indian Summer?

An "Indian Summer" is a period of unseasonably warm, dry and sunny weather that occurs in late autumn or early winter, typically after the first frost.

During an Indian Summer, temperatures can rise significantly above the seasonal average, creating a brief return to summery conditions, and the weather phenomenon is often characterised by clear skies and pleasant daytime temperatures.

Where does the term come from?

Many Brits' minds might turn to the Indian subcontinent of South Asia, but that is not actually where the term is thought to have originated from. Though the exact origin of the phrase "Indian Summer" is somewhat unclear, it likely has its roots in colonial North America.

Some believe that early European settlers in North America borrowed the term from Native American languages or traditions. Native Americans had their own observations and terms for weather patterns, and "Indian Summer" might have been inspired by these.

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Another theory suggests that European colonists in North America coined the term to describe this late-season warm spell, possibly because they associated it with the peaceful and mild weather of the Native American autumn.

Some historians suggest that the term might have originally been used to describe a false or deceptive summer. In this context, "Indian" could have been used to imply that the weather was not as it seemed, much like how the term "Indian giver" was used pejoratively to describe someone who takes back a gift.

The term is not unique to the United Kingdom, and is widely used in North America to describe this weather phenomenon.

Will there be an Indian Summer this year?

It's worth bearing in mind that a true Indian Summer occurs after the first frost of the year. As such, a pleasantly warm September or unseasonable temperate October is not likely to technically be an Indian Summer under the exact definition of the term.

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True Indian Summers are actually relatively rare in the UK, but brief spells of warm and sunny weather in the autumn months are often informally referred to as an "Indian Summer", which is why they may seem more common than they actually are.

So while the Met Office has said that a heatwave could be on its way just as kids across the country head back to school for the new term, this would not technically be an Indian Summer. The Met Office’s latest forecast said the first full week of September is “likely to contain a heatwave for some parts of the UK”.

The occurrence of an Indian Summer in the UK is irregular and largely dependent on various atmospheric conditions. It's not something that can be predicted with certainty, and when it does happen, it is often celebrated as a pleasant and unexpected respite from the typical autumnal weather.

In recent years, with changing climate patterns, there have been instances of warmer and more extended periods of autumn weather in the UK, but these still do not compare to the intense and prolonged Indian Summers that can occur in some other parts of the world with continental climates.

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