John Hammond on the drought of 1976

Weather forecaster John Hammond, went to the Wye Valley and took a trip down memory lane to the long, hot summer of 1976 when Britain was parched with drought.

Published: June 23rd, 2016 at 3:19 pm



Most of my extended family were farmers so the weather was always the topic of conversation around mealtimes, because farmers are obviously very reliant on the weather. I can't remember a time when I wasn't absolutely transfixed by it. I didn't want to miss a television forecast and my hero was Burt Foord, who was one of the early BBC TV weather presenters. It's an immense source of pride that I'm standing there on a Sunday doing what my friend Burt Foord did 40 years ago.


Britain is unique in its weather. We've got arctic air trying to come down from the north and tropical air trying to come up from the south so we're at a crossroads of different air masses. That's why our weather fluctuates so much from day to day and place to place across what is really quite a small country. If I was in Australia as a weather forecaster I'd die of boredom because it's the same every day, and similar if I was in the middle of America. So, if you want to be a weather forecaster this is the place to be!


My favourite weather is snow, undoubtedly. I grew up on the south coast where we hardly ever had any. I consulted the Ordnance Survey map to decide where I was going to live based on how high it was and if I wasn't tied to London I'd probably live somewhere further north, because obviously they get more snow. Somewhere in the Peak District or the Pennines would be my ideal place to live.


In 1976 I was 10 years old, so I remember it quite clearly: the parched countryside, the parched everything that summer which is something that has never been repeated. We've had heat-waves since then but nothing on that scale.

My memory that year is of going belly-boarding on the North Devon coast around Woolacombe and Morthoe. I remember getting into the sea and it actually felt like bath water. The irony is, of course, that apart from the farming population or people who needed water as a key resource, that summer was the best summer ever because the sun shone and shone, every single day.

Great Drought of 1976: what happened and what was the impact on Britain?


I had no idea before we made this programme that the drought of '76 made such an impact on the trees. Dr George Peterken (a local ecologist) took us around this dense woodland which he knew like the back of his hand and he picked out trees which clearly showed scars from '76. Some are still dying from the effect of that drought right now and some only just survived it.

The other highlight of filming for me was talking to a farmer, Graham Hunter Blair, who kept weather reports just like I did as a 10 year old. I used to have my own little weather station, so it was really nostalgic to look at his weather records of the same summer and his obsessive recording of how much rain fell and what the temperature was. It was music to my ears, he was a man after my own heart, so we got on like a house on fire.


To help to explain what happened with the weather in 1976 on the show I used the analogy of a boulder in the River Wye. The boulder was indicating the UK and the river indicating the jet stream deflecting around it. It took about 20 minutes for me to go no more than 20 feet out whilst trying desperately not to fall over or allow the water to get over the top of my waders.

The last time I went to the Wye valley I was also filming for Countryfile with Tom. So the only two times I've ever fished have both been in the River Wye for Countryfile! They filmed me trying to cast the fishing line and must have had to do about 10 takes because each time I tried, the fishing wire got all tangled up with my rod.


I didn't catch any fish but I caught a few weeds...I think I'll stick to doing the weather!


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