Dampened holiday plans
Rain and cold have sparked a flurry of bookings for last-minute sun holidays, but where is everyone going and why has the weather suddenly become so wintry? Aaron Gray-Block reports.
The August of 2006 in Belgium threatens to be remembered as an exceptionally gloomy month.
The cold and wet August weather has been no laughing matter
And yet, the first half of August has recorded more rainfall than the months June and July combined.
A total of 113lr of rain per square metre has been recorded in the first two weeks of August.
Though this is not a record, weatherman Frank Deboosere says it is already 50 percent more than normal.
But the cold and rainy start to August is good news for the nation's tourist bureaus.
Neckerman has recorded 20 percent more bookings for sun holidays this week compared with last week, while TUI has also witnessed a similar rush of reservations.
But choosing the destination, length of the holiday and return journey are posing problems, with a return date prior to 1 September hard to come by.
"It is now 15 to 20 percent cheaper to Turkey, but the usual prices still apply for other destinations," Neckermann spokesman Pierre Fivet says.
He also says that due to the poor weather, Belgian residents are also booking sun holidays for the winter months earlier than usual.
Unusually wet and cold?
Cool and rainy summer weather is not abnormal for Belgium, which is renowned for its unstable summer weather.
Meteorologist Frank Duboccage with the Leuven-based MeteoServices says the weather can "turn terribly quick", explaining that temperature is determined by wind direction.
If the wind comes from the south-southeast, it brings warm air and temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius and a heatwave can be experienced.
If the wind comes from the north-northwest, it brings cold air. Temperatures can then quickly fall below 20 degrees.
Okay, but why has August 2006 not only been cold, but also wet?
As temperature is dependent on wind and rainfall isn't, Duboccage blamed the rainy weather on a low pressure system of cold air that has been hovering above Belgium.
Rising warm weather has been 'colliding' with the low pressure system and condensing into rain.
But Duboccage also stressed the gloomy August weather is not unusual for a Belgian summer.
"The difference with July is of course unusually large. But that is not due to the current August weather, but the fact that July was so unusual," he said.
The month of July broke all temperature records set since measurements by the meteorological bureau RMI started in 1833. The amount of sunshine recorded last month was also exceptional.
"Therefore, August feels extra chilly and gloomy," Duboccage says.
Weather-proof holiday plans?
The sudden change in the summer weather has sparked notable shifts in tourist behaviour.
Restaurants are performing much better in August compared with July due to the fact people have moved indoors from café terraces and are taking more time over their meals.
The tearooms along the coast are also filled in the afternoon, while hotels have no reason to complain either — most are fully booked.
But after the warmth of July, turnover from the hiring of beach chairs and wind screens or ice cream sales have fallen lightning quick. Coastal terraces are largely empty.
Inland attractions and fun parks are performing excellently after a poor July. Sea Life and Earth Explorer were welcoming last week about 1,500 visitors every day.
Plopsaland is also a crowd pleaser, as are Sun Parks establishments in De Haan and Oostduinkerke.
And for tourists in the province of Limburg, there is never a problem with rain.
As soon as weather forecasts indicate more than a 50 percent chance of rain, tourists are given a 'bad weather guarantee': a ticket for a sauna, cinema, museum or other such under cover activity.
In total, they can choose from 45 activities, b