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THE SUMMER Hot sun, no rain and a plague of ladybirds... WE STEP BACK THIRTY YEARS TO THE HEATWAVE The recent heatwave had the Midlands hot under the collar - but was a breeze compared to the long hot summer thirty years ago. LORNE JACKSON recalls the day the water ran dry.

Byline: LORNE JACKSON

WHAT is a news story?

It is usually something that happens.

But not in the summer of 1976.

Because that was the year the hottest story in the country was something that DIDN'T happen.

Something that never happened in June. And failed to happen in July.

It even continued not happening well into August.

It didn't happen all summer long.

In fact, 1976 was the year that rain never reigned.

The year of dry, dusty drought... and terrifying doubt.

What was to be done?

Barefoot kids hopped from hot foot to hot foot, sadistic slabs of pavement sizzling their tender soles with the fizzling fervour of a wok frying onions.

Politicians pontificated.

What was to be done?

Sporting events stumbled to a halt' the rugby season became an utter balls-up.

Industry was indolent.

What was to be done?

Perhaps you believe 2006 is a particularly hot summer. Think again.

In 1976, the sultry summer sun was the only topic on anybody's lips.

Well, it would have been, if those same lips hadn't been too dry and crumbly to form coherent sentences.

Because 1976 was the hottest summer in the UK since records began.

As well as the heat, Britain was in the middle of a severe drought, exacerbated by the dry conditions.

Every day between June 22 and July 16 the temperature reached a sizzling 80iF (26.7iC).

But the heat really got husky for 15 days of baking blaze lasting from June 23 to July 7.

Temperatures hit 90iF (32.2T) somewhere in England on every single one of these days.

The hottest day of all was July 3, with temperatures broiling over at an astonishing 97iF (35.9T) in Cheltenham.

It was arguably the hottest July day on record in the UK.

The great drought wasn't just caused by the freak weather of 19 76.

The savagery of the temperatures of 1975 must also shoulder much of the blame.

In the summer and autumn of that year, the UK was also dry, as was its winter.

But the drought days reached their pinnacle in August 1976.

Devastating heath and forest fires broke out in parts of England, with one fire destroying 50,000 trees alone.

Crops were also badly hit, with pounds 500 million worth failing.

And, of course, there was also the dreadful shortage of water.

Reservoirs were at an extremely low level, as were some rivers. Standpipes were placed in many streets.

Meanwhile, strange days called for strange ideas.

The Labour government, under James Callaghan, decided to appoint a Minister for Drought.

A hero was needed. A hero who could work minor miracles.

Clouds

The Government opted for Denis Howell, then Labour MP for Birmingham Small Heath.

Mr Howell, who would later become Lord Howell, had been sports minister.

But his brief was now to crowd the sky with clouds.

CAPTION(S):

BAD SIGN: visitors to Frome, Somerset were told not to waste a drop in the sweltering heat' DRY: the Caban Coch dam in the Elan Valley, which provides Birmingham with its water, and (below) Nikki Foxell, when it dried up
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jul 9, 2006
Words:519
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