by Prof Liz Bentley
It may be an age-old gripe that it always rains on a bank holiday, but just how close to the truth is this. With the early May bank holiday approaching, we take a look at how the UK has faired during this particular bank holiday. Although May Day celebrations in England have taken place for centuries, the early May Day Bank Holiday – on the first Monday in May – has only been in existence since 1978. How many times has this bank holiday weekend been a washout or provided wall-to-wall blue skies and warm sunshine?
Looking at the UK as a whole and over the three-day weekend makes it difficult to assess the number of washouts and heatwaves. Some places faired better than others and some days were unsettled but the weekend was not a complete washout.
Broadly speaking since 1978:
- Approximately 1 in 5 of the early May bank holiday weekend have been fine and dry for most,
- 1 in 10 have been unsettled or complete washouts, and
- 3 out of 4 tend to be mixed. This means that some days are fine and dry and some days with rain or that some parts of the UK are being unsettled and others experiencing settled weather.
During most early May bank holiday weekends there is typically some useful weather to be had and you’re more likely to have a fine and dry weekend than a complete washout.
The average maximum temperature across the UK in early May ranges from about 10°C in the north to 18°C in the south. If we look at some extreme temperature records for the early May bank holiday weekend we reached 28.7°C at RAF Northholt in west London in 2018. Average overnight temperatures would typically range between 5 and 8°C in early May but over the early May bank holiday weekend in both 1981 and 1988 temperatures fell to -6.4°C across parts of Scotland.
The wettest early May bank holiday Monday was in 1979 when 63mm of rain fell across the UK. In contrast, one of the sunniest early May bank holiday Mondays was in 2001 with 15.1 hours of sunshine that day.