What is an ‘Indian Summer’?

“”The air is perfectly quiescent and all is stillness, as if Nature, after her exertions during the summer, were now at rest.” – John Bradbury, 1817.

autumWe often hear the term ‘Indian Summer’ brandished around when we experience fine, warm conditions at this time of year, but what exactly is an Indian Summer and how often do we experience them here in Ireland?

The term originated in North America, possibly around the New England region, although it remains unknown as when it first came to into use, or by whom. Some references, however, notably from Albert Matthews, who in early 20th Century undertook a study to attempt to decipher its origins, date it back to the 18th century. According to the US National American Service, one theory as to its geneses suggests that the Native American Indians considered the dry, calm, hazy conditions to be good hunting weather as warm conditions help to draw out the animals from their dens. Another theory is that these summer-like conditions often occurred during October and early November, which coincided with the Indian harvest and thus seen as a blessing from God.

Not known is how this term came to be used in Ireland or the UK to describe unusually warm, dry spells at this time of year. According to Philip Eden, a UK Meteorologist, the phrase was not widely used until relatively recently. In the UK, for example, local terminology to describe warm, hazy conditions during autumn before the 1950’s included ‘St. Luke’s Summer’, ‘All Halloween Summer’ and ‘Old Wives Summer’. The term ‘Indian Summer’, therefore, may have been propagated in the UK by populist media over the last 60 years or so which, inevitably, would have made it a popular term of expression here in Ireland also.

Indian Summers in Ireland

In the American/New England context, an Indian summer typically occurs in October and November, after the first frosts of autumn have occurred. Given our somewhat more temperate climate here in Ireland, the expression is loosely used to describe warm, dry, anticyclonic conditions occurring in late-September through to October. There are no set criteria as to how long such a warm, dry spell should be last, though temperatures of 19 deg.C or more being recorded a number of days, (average maxima for the period ranges between 14-17 Deg. C) in conjunction with dry and sunny conditions would appear to be worthy of the phrase.

Notable Indian summer type conditions in Ireland occurred in 1870, 1895, 1907, 1921, 1926, 1941, 1947, 1949, 1961, 1970, 1971, 1985, 1986, 1998 & 2005. In all these years, however, maximum temperatures rarely reached above 20.deg C on more than 3 consecutive days.

Further Reading:

From the US Weather Service:
Just what is an ‘Indian Summer’ and did Indians really have anything to do with it?

From the BBC:
Indian Summer – What exactly is it?

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5 thoughts on “What is an ‘Indian Summer’?

  1. Back in the late 50s and through the 60s we used the term Indian Summer if the good, hot, sunny days with no rain extended into September. However, as a kid, I assumed that it was called that because summer in India was September to December. However, Due to the fact that I need to know when summer, winter etc is in Asian countries I eventually learned that Summer in India takes place from March to May. I then became confused. It seems like the initial reasons are pretty varied.
    Thanks for the post.

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