Thunderous days of June

Sparks fly from Thor's hammer
Sparks fly from Thor's hammer

Written by Heather Elvidge

We should know better, but we just can’t help ourselves. We still think that June is the perfect time to hold huge outdoor events.

Off we go to Wimbledon, Glastonbury and the British Grand Prix, despite the month being notorious for its fickle weather. And we manage to have a good time, even if it pours down.

However, a thunder-storm with torrential rain is not so much fun. But storms often happen at this time of year when cool and warm air collide. Already we’ve had some episodes of grumbling thunder.

Our ancestors believed that thunder was the voice of the sky god. Here in the old Danelaw that was red-haired Thor, who made thunder with his hammer.

Funnily enough, our forebears were more worried about thunder than lightning. Lightning might rend a tree in half or bring down the church steeple, but thunder could turn your beer or milk sour.

To keep beer from spoiling it was necessary to lay iron on top of the barrel. Any domestic object would do, even scrap iron, because the metal was well known to repel the powers of evil. Touching iron or simply saying, “cold iron” was enough to cancel the bad luck of breaking a taboo.

Milk does indeed sour in thundery weather and to prevent this, thunderstones were kept on the windowsill of the dairy. Thunderstones were fossils such as dart-shaped belemnites, or fossil sea urchins known as fairy loaves. They were thought to be the remnants of thunderbolts flung down from heaven.

Outside were plants known to deter thunderbolts. That’s why holly, laurel and elder were planted next to houses and farm buildings. Elder also kept flies away, which was a handy attribute by the door to dairy or privy. On the roof grew mats of houseleek, believed to deflect lightning strikes.

As lightning seeks the highest point, it’s best to crouch on the ground if you’re caught in the open during a storm. This old verse speaks sense:

“Beware of the oak; it draws the stroke.

Avoid an ash; it courts the flash.

Creep under the thorn, it will save you from harm.”

Weather lore

The Met Office says that 10 years of cooler, wet summers lie ahead. So we’d better adjust our expectations and accept that heatwaves will be an unusual phenomenon. Start practising during June 29 to July 4, one of the “cold” periods identified by Victorian meteorologist, Alexander Buchan.

Folklore sees nothing unusual in a damp June. The month has some key forecasting days, beginning with the 8th. Rain then is said to foretell a wet harvest, something we don’t want after last year’s low wheat yields. Happily, this year the day was cloudy and 

The trend for summer is supposed to be set on St Vitus’ Day, June 15, a day that brought sunny intervals and cloudy spells with showers. The wind direction at the solstice gave the prevailing direction for the next three months; this was north-westerly to south-westerly.

Putting it all together, the old lore agrees with the Met Office. Summer won’t be all gloom, there will be sunshine; but this could be the year of the packable mac.