Who doesn't love an Indian Summer?
As our days grow a little too short a little too quickly, a fair few of us turn our thoughts towards one last burst of sunshine before the winter months set in. And with temperatures set to rise this week, I can't go anywhere at the moment without being quizzed about an Indian Summer.
Traditionally, an Indian Summer is a spell of dry, sunny and warm temperatures occurring after summer ends, usually between the end of September and mid November. But it's only a true Indian Summer if these above-average temperatures come along after the first killer frost, or a series of sharp frosts.
For we forecasters working at the weather coalface, it's not easy to predict, and there's no statistical evidence to show that it's a recurring phenomenon. Most recently, we enjoyed one in October 2011, when the mercury rose to set a record high of 29.9C (86F ) in Kent on October 18th. We have to go all the way back to 1936 for the November record, when 21.1 C ( 70F ) was achieved in Essex and Suffolk on November 2nd.
There's uncertainty as to why the Indians gave their name to this late last gasp of summer.
The term ousted a posse of poetic names - Shakespeare's All Halloween Summer, St Luke's Summer, St Martin's Summer, or San Martino in Italy. It's known as Gypsy Summer in the Slavic countries, and Tiger Autumn in China. Perhaps the naming of the waning heat, makes it somehow more magical, more symbolic.
Some people believe that the name is simply an accident of geography, with the time of year first recorded by settlers in America in areas inhabited by lots of Indians. Others claim that it refers to the hazy skies resulting from early autumn Indian prairie fires. Or even to the raids carried out by the Indians on the settlers during the lull in cold weather. It could even be that those Native Americans were meteorologists in their own observational way, and recognising the tell-tale patterns, they used that final burst of productive weather to stock up on food supplies for winter.
There's also a more cynical explanation for the origin of Indian Summer. Some claim that the early settlers named those brief warm weeks after the Indians, because, like the natives, they were fickle, fleeting and not to be trusted. I prefer the link with a Native American legend. This tells how a desert god conjured up nice warm south westerly winds, so that the Indians could go hunting and gathering with his blessing, before the barren emptiness of the harsh winter months set in.
Finally, another hypothesis, outside the bevy of American Indian theories, was put forward by an author by the name of H E Ware. He noted that the ships crossing the Indian Ocean in those days, loaded up their cargo to the gunnels during the Indian Summer, or fair weather season. Several ships actually had an IS stamped on the hull at the load level thought to be safe during the Indian Summer.
Whatever the meaning, one thing's for certain, an Indian Summer is a welcome wonderful
interlude, giving us comfort and cheer before winter tightens its grip. I love scouring my weather charts in eager anticipation of those heart warming tell-tale signs. Because, let's face it, whatever the stats say, it continues to arrive most years, just as thoughts of summer past are fading into thoughts of winter to come. Or as The Manic Street Preachers so perceptively sing in their aptly-named Indian Summer song:
"She's the one for me
She opened my eyes to see
She's the one for me "