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Sunbathing Britons Bask in a Balmy May

May 24, 1989

LONDON (AP) _ The sun, so elusive in a British spring, has been positively beaming down on the London area for so many rainless days that people are in danger of forgetting where they put their umbrellas.

Much of the country is sharing the sunshine bonanza. So far, it is the warmest May since 1964.

London was the country’s sweltriest spot Tuesday. The 84-degree high made it the capital’s hottest day in May since official record-taking began in 1948.

Temperatures of 82 degrees made the south coast towns of Bournemouth and Southampton hotter at the weekend than Athens or Tangier.

It hasn’t rained in London since a light shower fell May 13, and the London Weather Center records .032 inches of rain so far - against an average May rainfall of 2.02 inches.

Raincoats hang at the back of the closet, Wellington boots are buried by accumulating debris in the car trunk and eager barbecuers have bought out the lawn furniture stocks in some stores and garden centers.

Opportunities like this do not arise very often for a nation of picnickers. A good drenching is part of everybody’s outdoor dining experience, and the ability to hold on to your plate, your glass and your humor while sprinting for shelter is a basic of British sang-froid.

Bookmaker William Hill says it faces a $170,000 payout if temperatures exceed the 96.6-degree mark reached in 1976, and has shortened its odds from 33-to-1 to 16-to-1.

It would lose an additional $85,000 if the century’s record high of 98 degrees, set in 1911, is exceeded and has dropped odds against this happening to 50-1, a spokesman said.

Of course there is still a week left for a deluge, but nothing can take away the 224 hours of sunshine so far. Average May sunshine is 198 hours for the entire month, the weather center said.

Londoners are taking all this in their stride.

What is left of British reserve seems to have been shelved for the time being as people of all ages walk around the capital with large portions of their anatomy exposed to the sun.

Barefoot, barelegged and occasionally bare-chested, they go to the parks and the zoo, eating ice creams and pushing toddlers in strollers.

The people of the northern Calder Valley in West Yorkshire have not had the same good fortune. On Friday, a two-hour rainstorm caused flash floods and two towns had to be evacuated.

A bolt of lightning struck 26-year-old Philip Blake as he walked over a hill in North Wales on Tuesday, but his life apparently was saved by a crucifix he wore around his neck. He suffered damaged ear drums and burns.

″The burning cross has left a perfect mark at the top of his chest,″ said a spokeswoman for Gwynedd Hospital in Bangor, speaking anonymously.

The Automobile Association said ″near monsoon″ rainstorms Tuesday made driving treacherous and caused dozens of road accidents across England’s West Midlands.

But for most of the nation, television weather forecasters are running out of novel ways to express the good news and some have begun to point out that a cold front edging south from Scotland might get to northern England by Friday.

Update hourly