A dry March

  • A dry March
    17.03.2011 15:30


    It has been an arid month so far. Notwithstanding recent snow over Scotland, March has seen little precipitation across the UK, and up to mid month only 10 to 15 per cent of the average had fallen.

    On the face of it this would seem to have been a climate familiar to Geoffrey Chaucer, given the first lines of The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales:

    “Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote

    The droghte of March hath perced to the roote…”

    In Modern rather than Middle English he was saying that people start packing for their pilgrimage when “April’s sweet showers have pierced the drought of March to the root”.

    It is possible that the 14th century climate in southeast England was a little different but the concept of April showers shifting a drought is overstated. On average the month of April, despite its reputation, is a slightly drier month than March, and indeed one of the drier months of the year, although perhaps Chaucer was writing in conditional terms - if March is dry then April should be showery.

    Either way, the idea permeated popular culture ever after, for example in a tune in the Disney animation “Bambi” and in the song popularised by Al Jolson in the 1920s, “April Showers”. “Though April showers may come your way”, he sang, “they bring the flowers that bloom in May”, echoing the traditional adage “March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers”.

    March certainly has more of a reputation for windiness than wetness but it is not the stormiest month. January and February tend to have stronger winds, and December marginally so.

    Another old saw about the early spring says that “when the cat lies in the sun in February, she will creep behind the stove in March”. Well, February was certainly milder than normal, although as it was cloudier than average the feline in question would often have struggled to find much sunshine to enjoy.

    The proverb is therefore rather inconclusive but March so far has been rather chilly as well as dry.

    Two sayings might give farmers cause for optimism: “A wet March makes a sad harvest” and its counterpoint “March dry, good rye”. And early-summer holiday-makers could take comfort from the traditional assertion that “as it rains in March, so it rains in June”.

    The next few days will see rain here and there but otherwise high pressure looks like being quite dominant for a week or two, keeping March unusually dry. Whether this reliably foretells anything about the coming summer remains a matter of conjecture.

    By: Stephen Davenport