With autumn almost done and winter on its way, we thought it a good time to take a look at the range of words and phrases that are used in relation to weather.
In summer, temperatures rise and when they go up suddenly, they soar, as in The temperature will soar into the eighties this weekend. A number of words mean ‘hot’, many of which have additional meanings. When it is close, it is uncomfortably hot and the air quality makes it difficult to breathe. Muggy and sticky both mean unpleasantly hot, referring to a humid heat, in which the air contains a lot of water. Adjectives such as boiling, sweltering, scorching and scorching hot all mean ‘extremely hot’ or ‘too hot’. They are all slightly informal in register. Stuffy describes a room or other enclosed space that is unpleasantly warm and lacks air.
In winter, meanwhile, temperatures may drop, fall or dip and, when they drop suddenly, by a large number of degrees, they plummet. Very cold weather may be described as freezing, bitter or bitterly cold. Less dramatically, it may be said to be chilly or nippy. When the temperature falls below zero, there may be a frost, causing ponds and windows to ice over. Another possibility when the weather is cold is snow. Like rain, snow may be heavy or light.
Still with temperatures, weather in autumn or winter that is not cold is often described as mild. Very mild weather in the colder seasons may be said to be unseasonably warm/mild, with temperatures above normal/average. A spell of unseasonably mild weather in late autumn is sometimes called an Indian summer, though there is some controversy as to what this term actually means. (Strictly speaking, an Indian summer must follow a sharp frost and happens in late October/mid-November. More often, the term is loosely applied to a period of unusually warm weather at any point in autumn.)
A short period of rain is called a shower and showers may be heavy or light. When it rains a little, in small, light drops, it may be said to drizzle. When it rains heavily it may also be said to pour with rain or (informal) to bucket down. Very heavy rain may also be described as torrential. A downpour or a deluge refers to a lot of rain falling in a short time. Driving rain is rain that is falling heavily and being blown by the wind.
Winds may be strong or, if they are strong and sudden, gusty. Blustery is another word for ‘windy’, as in blustery conditions or blustery weather. The slightly informal word blowy is yet another synonym for ‘windy’. A breeze is a light and pleasant wind, from which we have the adjective breezy. A gust, meanwhile, is a sudden, strong wind.
A short period of any type of weather may be called a spell as in, a cold/warm spell or a spell of dry weather. A cold spell may also be called a cold snap. When a spell of one type of weather is followed by another and this trend continues, weather patterns may be said to be unsettled or changeable.
The fact that there are so many words to describe the weather reflects our obsession with the constantly changing weather of the UK.