by Philip Eden
With the Wimbledon fortnight fast approaching tennis fans will be listening to the weather forecast over the next two weeks with more than a little interest. What they have heard so far will fill some with dread, others with resignation: the long dry spell which London has experienced for the last six weeks appears to be coming to an end.
To be fair, Wimbledon does not guarantee rain, in spite of what some cynics may think. The 1990s brought three successive dry fortnights, in 1993, 1994, and 1995, although on the other side of the coin 1997 and 1998 were both very wet and decidedly chilly. The last few years have brought occasional interruptions, but nothing truly disruptive – except, perhaps, to Tim Henman’s concentration.
The most remarkable Wimbledon fortnight from a meteorological point of view was that of 1976. The grass turned brown, the courts became arid and dusty, spectators dropped like flies on the hottest afternoons, and it was no small wonder that the players themselves did not suffer more from the heat.
The Championships coincided with the hottest weather during that record-breaking summer – in fact this was probably the hottest fortnight in the London area since at least 1783 and probably for much longer. The average afternoon temperature for the twelve days of competition at nearby Kew Observatory was 31°C, it exceeded 32°C on six days, and reached 34°C on both of the Saturdays. The sun shone for an average of 12 and a half hours per day.
During the 1980s and 1990s rain was a frequent visitor and in several years the tournament authorities had their work cut out trying to fit in all the matches. They failed in 1988 thanks to a final Sunday of incessant rain, and only just succeeded in the very wet years of 1980, 1985, 1990, 1991, 1997 and 1998. Some of the lowest temperatures ever recorded during the Championships have also occurred in recent years, notably June 27, 1997, when the mid-afternoon temperature was just 11°C.
The wettest Wimbledon, in term
s of the quantity of rain that fell, was that of 1982 with 77mm of rain, approximately three and a half times the average amount for two weeks in mid-summer. The most disrupted Championships, however, were in 1922 when heavy downpours during the second week resulted in a huge backlog of matches, the tournament squelched into a third week, and the last ties were not completed until Wednesday July 12. By contrast, a completely rainless Wimbledon fortnight happens, on average, only once every twenty years. The last such occasion was in 1993, although in the only rain fell on the evening of the middle Sunday.