Secrets of the Met Office: How to have the best chance of a rain-free staycation

·14-min read
travel holiday uk rain-free summer sun met office lake district cornwall devon scotland pembrokeshire
travel holiday uk rain-free summer sun met office lake district cornwall devon scotland pembrokeshire

Summer holidays in the UK have it all – from the rugged South West coast to the rolling fells of Cumbria – but when it comes to guaranteeing the weather, a staycation is undeniably and unavoidably unpredictable.

It’s a gamble as to whether you’ll get a heatwave (congratulations to those of you that sneaked in a break during one of the hottest Junes on record) or a deluge (campers will still be scarred by Storms Ellen and Francis of August 2020) – and the uncertainty is enough to put anybody off the thought of holidaying on home soil.

In fact, close to a fifth of Britons have postponed booking a holiday in the UK between July and September this year because of the unpredictability of the weather, according to research carried out by Visit Britain. Over the Platinum Jubilee bank holiday week the most common reason for people to put off booking a staycation was to wait to see what the forecast would have in store.

It’s safe to say the weather plays an important role in planning a summer break. But, what if you could, to some extent, scientifically pinpoint when you have the best chance of having a rain-free trip to the Pembrokeshire coast, or a scorching stay in Cornwall?

We've crunched the Met Office’s historic weather database in an effort to predict when and where to book a rain-free staycation. We’ve examined the nation’s favourite destinations in detail, highlighted the weather trends to look out for this summer, and compiled tips from the experts on where still has availability for a dry and warm break.

The predictions in this article are based solely on historical data, of course. What might often be a tropical week could inevitably end up being a soggy stay this time around. “A lot of people are surprised to learn how wet August is in the UK,” reminds Aidan McGivern, Met Office meteorologist and presenter – while October 3 2020 is now the wettest UK day on record, August 25 1986 held the record until then. Proof enough that, whatever the forecast, an umbrella needs to be close at hand.

Cornwall

Despite its reputation as the UK’s number one holiday hotspot, with the South West of England the most popular destination for trips since September 2021, according to Visit Britain, the Cornish coast doesn’t top the charts when it comes to perfect weather. In fact it is the Goldilocks of summer staycation options. Maximum temperatures, while never dipping far below 18ºC in the summer months, aren’t the hottest, and while it rains – August is particularly wet – it doesn’t pour like elsewhere.

You’re most likely to hit the fairytale holiday jackpot in July. Temperatures are at their highest and rainfall is at its lowest out of the peak summer months, with close to 200 hours of sunshine on the Cornish coast throughout the month.

Plan your stay for the best weather

Enjoy stylish, but laid-back living in Edwardian waterfront inn, the Idle Rocks, in chic St Mawes – with an absolutely fabulous chef. Skies and sea often look Mediterranean, and sitting in the bar over a perfectly executed aperitif, it can be hard to believe you are in England – especially when the weather cooperates. From £450 per night, departing July 4 for optimum weather. Find more of the best hotels in Cornwall here.

The Lake District

Some 400 miles north of Cornwall, you don’t need to be a meteorologist to know that colder and often wetter the weather lies in store. In fact, according to the Met Office, Cumbria holds three of the top records for consecutive days of rainfall. Forgivingly, these records were all set during winter, but with an average of 96mm, 111mm and 129mm of rain in the key summer months of June, July and August respectively it’s a soggy trend that continues year-round.

For those planning a trip to the Lake District, which welcomes over 15 million visitors each year, a tip off on the forecast could be worth its weight in Grasmere gingerbread. If you have your heart set on wandering in the footsteps of Wainwright this summer the top tip is to move fast – June has the lowest average rainfall – or pack your umbrellas and shorts in equal measure to enjoy peak temperatures (18.4ºC) in July, but the second highest rainfall (111.9mm) of our chosen destinations.

Plan your stay for the best weather

A Lakeland landmark hotel, Low Wood Bay overlooks Lake Windermere and has now expanded into a modern resort with watersports and a swanky spa. Appealing to both families and couples (with some bedrooms in an exclusive chalet-style building), it also offers a choice of eating options. From £126 per night, based on a June 28 arrival. Find more of the best hotels in the Lake District here.

Pembrokeshire

According to Telegraph Travel’s destination expert Kerry Walker: “If you think Wales is all drizzle and sheep-grazed hills, you need to go further west. In Cardigan Bay’s southwestern crook, Pembrokeshire is an instant heart-stealer.” It’s a brave statement, but she’s not wrong – Dale Fort in Pembrokeshire is the sunniest place in Wales, with 354 hours of sunshine in July 1955 marking the most to date.

Maximum average temperatures during the key summer months in Pembrokeshire closely rival those in Cornwall, without the crowds of second home owners. But while the Welsh coast boasts similar qualities to its English counterpart, historic rainfall data isn’t as promising (114mm of August rainfall compared to 92mm in Cornwall). In a similar trend to elsewhere in the UK, historically July proves to be the optimum time to tackle the 186-mile coastal path, kayak around the rugged coastline or visit the UK’s dinkiest city, St Davids – when it’s only slightly hotter but significantly drier than August.

Plan your stay for the best weather

A Georgian coaching house with boutique edge, Llys Meddyg wows with eye-catching original artworks and an outstanding restaurant serving up locally sourced ingredients. If you’re looking for a stylishly intimate base for rambles on this glorious stretch of the Pembrokeshire coast, here you have it. From £119, departing July 24. Find more of the best hotels in Pembrokeshire here.

Peak District

Heading away from the coast might seem like an obvious idea when it comes to avoiding those unpredictable coastal showers, but when visiting the Peak District this summer it’s worth noting what’s left of June or August (by a fine margin) are the most likely times to leave you driest.

Temperatures in August are also impressive – the second hottest of the destinations surveyed. This could be your best chance to visit the Peak District National Park without needing to pack your pullover and waterproofs. The UK’s oldest national park is home to a vast array of moorland tracks, riverside trails, market towns and stately homes, all of which are significantly more appealing in terms of weather forecasts than their National Park counterpart in Cumbria – where temperatures are almost 5ºC cooler and there’s almost 50mm more rain on average in August.

Plan your stay for the best weather

Owned by the Chatsworth Estate (and walking distance from the stately home itself), the Cavendish Hotel is a traditional coaching inn turned elegant country house hotel and is perfect weekend-break material, offering attractive accommodation and excellent food in the heart of the Peak District. From £231 per night, departing August 15 to make the most of peak summer. Find more of the best hotels in the Peak District here.

East Anglia

The Norfolk Broads have their fair share of sitting water, but in fact, along with neighbouring Suffolk, this part of East Anglia proves to be the driest UK holiday hotspot during the summer months. Temperatures are also the hottest on record out of the six destinations we surveyed – in fact Cambridge Botanic Gardens recorded the highest daily maximum temperature in England in July 2019, at 38.7ºC.

Boasting some of the UK’s most popular beaches, undulating countryside and sleepy villages, East Anglia could be a water tight choice this summer – our research certainly suggests east is best when it comes to dodging the rain, especially in July when it’s hottest and driest.

Plan your stay for the best weather

Retreat East has taken the idealised ‘house in the country’ and distilled it into the most relaxing of weekend escapes: stylishly converted barns with beamed ceilings and freestanding tubs, walks in Suffolk countryside that you can take from your doorstep, a kitchen garden with superb seasonal ingredients, and a hot tub in a suntrap of a spot. From £202 per night, departing July 24, for a break where you’re almost guaranteed to hit the weather jackpot. Find more of the best hotels in East Anglia here.

Scotland

When it rains in Scotland it pours. In fact the rainfall in Inverness and the Highlands in the key summer months greatly exceeds the rest of our holiday hotspots – August seeing an average of 144.2mm of deluge. In fact, rainfall in Scotland as a whole only dips below an average of 90mm per month once in the entire year – visit in May if you want the best chances of dry weather.

If you’re planning to head to the Highlands on your summer break be prepared to make the most of every minute of sunshine – the region has the lowest sunshine hours out of the areas surveyed, bottoming out at 118 hours in August; consider July for the warmest temperatures. Be careful what you wish for though, especially if spending your break under canvas, Scotland’s army of midges delight when the weather is between 8ºC and 18ºC and the wind is low – you might prefer a couple of days of wind and rain to ease the itching.

Plan your stay for the best weather

From the banks of the River Ness peer out at herons and search for Nessie at the Glenmoriston Townhouse, a central boutique bolthole; an ideal gateway to the Highlands. A contemporary cool vibe ripples through, while one of Inverness’ brightest restaurants provides sustenance. From £161 per night, departing July 10 for a warm, but inevitably wet, stay. Find more of the best hotels in the Highlands here.

The verdict

When and where to go for the driest, sunniest staycation?

According to our research of the UK’s top holiday destinations and the scientific data, if you want a dry and warm break this summer place your bets on Suffolk in July, when average temperatures are the highest across the seven destinations surveyed (22.5ºC), there’s the most amount of sunshine than any other area (211.2 hours) and rainfall is the lowest of the month (54.mm).

When and where should you avoid during the summer?

Despite being the peak of school holidays, August is in fact the most unreliable month for a UK summer break. Average rainfall is at its highest across the UK (average 93.7mm) in the summer months, with all seven hotspots seeing the most showers in this month, and while slightly warmer than June (19.3ºC versus 17.7ºC) average maximum temperatures historically fail to beat those in July. Avoid the Highlands and the Lake District in particular if you want to stay dry and warm.

What about holidays throughout the year?

If you’re already sorted this summer and are looking further ahead towards your next break in the UK the Met Office data might be able to help with your research. Considering booking a getaway during the October half term? Why not consider Northern Ireland, where temperatures are only marginally lower than those in England and Wales on average.

You’re unlikely to find a rain-free festive escape but if you’re keen to stay as dry as possible in December consider staying in England or crossing the sea to Northern Ireland again. If rain is a deciding factor of when you choose to go on holiday in the UK, consider booking before summer arrives. Historically May is the driest month across the nation on average, followed by April – so much for those famous showers.

Ask the experts

Aidan McGivern, Met Office Meteorologist and Presenter shares his top tips for weather watchers this summer.

Why is planning a rain-free summer difficult in the UK?

“Since there is a large ocean to the west of the UK – and the UK’s prevailing winds are from the west or southwest – it should be no surprise that the default weather for the UK during the summer is cool and showery,” explains Aidan.

“Another factor is the jet stream. The jet stream is a fast-flowing current of air around 5 miles above sea level that snakes around the globe. There are several jet streams in various parts of the world but the one closest to the UK is called the polar front jet stream. This forms as a result of temperature differences between the sub-tropics and polar regions and it is an important influence on the UK’s weather throughout the year…During most other summers, the jet stream will oscillate north to south across the UK with the weather fluctuating in response from sunny and warm for a few days to cool and showery for a few days and back again.”

Are weather patterns getting increasingly difficult to predict?

“No, the UK’s four-day forecast is now as accurate as our one-day forecast was 30 years ago,” shares Aiden.

“However, summer weather can be trickier to predict than autumn or winter weather. This is partly because the jet stream is weaker and more tenuous. In the autumn and winter, the powerful jet stream is strongly affected by teleconnections around the world. Teleconnections are oscillations in the atmosphere or oceans in other parts of the world – sometimes thousands of miles away – that can reverberate throughout the globe and have a knock-on effect on the position and shape of the jet stream. By analysing these jet streams during the autumn and winter, we can have a better idea of how the jet stream might change in the coming weeks or months. A weaker jet stream during the spring and summer is less likely to be driven by these global teleconnections and, as a result, is more difficult to predict more than a week ahead.”

What should you look out for in the forecast ahead of your next staycation?

Aidan advises: “The easiest thing to be on the lookout for is high pressure. This tends to bring dry weather with clear skies and generally quite pleasant weather. If that's coupled with a southerly air flow, then it could be a sign of temperatures rising as we bring in hot air from the continent. However, heat from the continent can often also bring with it the risk of some thundery downpours, at times.”

What surprises should we prepare for this summer?

“A lot of people are surprised to learn how wet August is in the UK. On average, it’s the wettest summer month and it’s also wetter than February, March, April and May,” says Aiden.

“Part of the reason is that the jet stream becomes stronger during August, so the UK experiences more frequent and deeper depressions from the Atlantic. Another reason is that the seas surrounding the UK are warmer, so there’s more evaporation.

“The Atlantic hurricane season can also become more active during August… In 1986, Hurricane Charley wandered into North Atlantic waters, became swept up by the jet stream and hit the UK during the Late Summer Bank Holiday weekend. Although no longer technically a hurricane, it still contained plenty of tropical moisture and brought record-breaking rainfall to parts of Wales with severe flooding to other places such as Northern Ireland, Cumbria and Gloucestershire.”

Do you have any tips or tricks for planning a UK holiday with the most likely chance of sunshine? Comment below to join the conversation

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