The British tend, despite experience, to think of summers as warm(ish) and dry, and winters as cold and wet. Yet the statistics show that neither of these assumptions is correct. While the highest rainfall occurs from October to January, the driest months are usually February and March.
February 1891 stands out as one of the driest months ever recorded, with just a couple of millimetres recorded across much of England – described by the Met Office at the time as “unusually deficient”.
In London, it was the first month without significant rainfall since July 1800. Indeed, any moisture that was found in the capital’s rain gauges may in fact have been produced by condensation from early morning fogs, which were a regular feature of that month’s weather.
The reason for the drought was the persistence of a high-pressure system over southern Britain for virtually the whole of the month, which led to fine, sunny and unusually warm weather.
One observer in Hertfordshire noted the appearance of “sulphur butterflies” – brimstones – which usually hide away until the spring, but were encouraged to emerge early because of temperatures rising close to 20C.