During the winter of 1983-84, there was a very snowy cold spell in the last week of January 1984. Scotland, Northern Ireland and the North of England were affected.
Here’s a nice couple of black and white photos of the Fulling Mill and Cathedral taken by Craig Oliphant, who has very kindly given his permission to publish. Ice is just starting to form in the still water above the weir.
“Jan, very snowy in Scotland. 13th-23rd Jan., Scotland, N. Ireland and northern England. Considerable drifting on hills. 21-23rd Jan., northern England, C. Highlands, Scotland 2ft lying. Early Feb, Scotland. 24th Mar., Highlands.”
February 1986 (who remembers that one then?) was one of the coldest Februaries ever recorded in modern times.
Trevor Harley, in his famous weather summaries pages, describes February 1986 thus:
“February 1986. Extremely cold (-1.1C CET), with frequent light snowfalls. The second coldest February of the 20th century (after 1947), and fourth coldest month of the twentieth century overall (and the last time a month had a mean beneath zero before December 2010).
The month was similar to January 1963 in being a completely blocked month, with a high centred over north Russia bringing some very cold air east. Winds were easterly for 23 days, and were of virtual calm for the remaining days. It was the most easterly month on record apart from February 1947. Easterly winds had already set in by the end of January.
Snow cover was widespread in the east, where it was very dull: Cupar (Fife) registered only 41 hours sunshine all month. In the west it was very dry and sunny (144 hours sunshine on Anglesey, higher than summer months there; with no measurable rain at all in some western coastal sites). The lowest temperature was at Grantown-on-Spey, where it reached -21.2C on the 27th.
The month was most remarkable for the consistently low maxima; the temperature remained beneath 1C at Buxton (Derbuyshire) all month. The lowest temperature around Birmingham was -11.0C, at Elmdon, on the 21st, and the highest, just 3.8C on the 28th. There was freezing rain in the north Midlands. Up to 50 mm of glaze was recorded on broken power lines at Buxton on the 2nd.
Widdybank Fell, at 513 m above sea level in County Durham, remained beneath freezing all month, and had a total of 32 consecutive days beneath zero – probably a record “for a inhabited area” (Trevor has obviously never been to Widdybank Fell, it’s wild, desolate, and definitely not inhabited!). I remember our toilet freezing and a six inch icicle growing out of the toilet cistern overflow. I reckon this is the last time I experienced a temperature beneath -10C. The cold persisted into early March.
For some reason I find that February 1986 is often “the forgotten month” when one talks about extreme winters in Britain. Perhaps this is because there wasn’t any widespread serious disruption due to heavy snow over a wide area, perhaps because there weren’t any record-breaking low temperatures, and perhaps because the rest of the winter was unexceptional. Indeed, some parts of the country had no snow at all. Nevertheless, it was the coldest month since January 1963. It was also the second driest February of the century. Hence I make this the most interesting February of the century“.
The harsh realities of the brutal winter of 1946-47 are chronicled here in a writeup of The Time Traveller clipped from the Northern Echo some time in the 1980s
The churches worry about war-devastated Germany, but most people say that Britain has enough to do in feeding herself. Rationing is worse than in the war – dwindling allowances of basic foods, “points” for others, coupons for clothes and since last July even bread, which has not been rationed before.
We are exhorted to export more, or expect still lower living standards and industry is short of coal. Mr. Atlee’s Labour Government is sadly handicapped in it’s attempt to inaugurate a new era of social welfare and industrial change, including nationalisation of industries like mining, which has been run by a National Coal Board since New Year’s Day.
The Weather looks ominous indeed
Now even the weather looks ominous. Indeed, the last twelve months has been the wettest for a generation, a wintry snap came before Christmas, and the New Year has been very wet; but a very cold easterly air current now covers the country. The first snow fell in midweek – accompanying a forecast of “Bread ration may be cut, less bacon and home meat, beer supplies to be halved immediately” – and today has fallen more generally. Tonight a wintry weekend is setting in.
FA Cup ties were played today in icy winds, and road accidents in one small area of County Durham have included a bus turning over near Bishop Auckland, injuring two of 30 passengers, and a Richmond couple injured when their car collided with a lorry near Bildershaw Bank; and tonight a car and lorry have collided on The Great North Road between Ferryhill and Chilton.
A boy of six and his eight year old sister have drowned in sliding on a frozen pond in Shropshire, and two boys aged eight and fourteen in a Berkshire pond.
Ten feet deep on the North York Moors
By tomorrow night the snow drifts will be six to ten feet deep on the North Yorkshire Moors, along with heavy snow in many other parts of the country, and gales along the East Coast and English Channel, with the wildest day for years in the Straits of Dover, snow on Hastings beach and the heaviest fall for three years at Falmouth in Cornwall.
Despite what it portends, however by Monday the weather will not yet displace such news as the breakdown of Anglo-Egyptian treaty negotiations, and the kidnapping of a judge and an Army officer by jewish terrorists in Palestine. Today, the gangster Al Capone has died in Florida, to which he retired in 1939 after his release from eight years prison for income tax evasion. This is also a weekend of air accidents.
Apart from a Hong Kong report of £1m in gold scattered down a hillside, with a Dakota’s crew of four dead, a Dakota crashed today on take off at Croydon, killing half of it’s two dozen occupants, and a Mosquito came down in a field near Kirkby Fleetham Hall, killing two pilots from RAF Leeming; and tomorrow a Dutch Dakota is to crash after take off in Denmark, killing six crew and sixteen passengers including the eldest son of the Crown Prince of Sweden and film star and opera singer Grace Moore.
A Literary star is to rise in The North East next Thursday with publication of a book of short stories by the young Ferryhill miner Sid Chaplin, who has already received the Atlantic Award for Literature.
The whole country paralysed
By then, the whole country will be paralysed. On Wednesday, there will be 14ft drifts in Essex and 16 degrees of frost that night in London, after gas and electricity cuts during the day, with most of it’s commuters snowbound at home for days to come.
The snow this weekend heralds a nightmare of continuous snow and frost, lack of coal made worse by frozen roads and railways, and colliers stormbound in the Tyne, power stations closing down and, by the end of the week after next, two million people out of work.
Surviving wartime regulations allow the government to fobid electric fires between set hours of morning and afternoon, to ban greyhound racing and suspend television and radio’s Thid Programme, and cut London transport. In the coldest February for over half a century, in snow, in worn clothes and leaking footwear, people are to find themselves trying to revive “wartime spirit” in a “Fuel Dunkirk”, collecting gasworks coke in prams and sacks and queueing for candles. A failure of the national grid and a total blackout will be barely averted in a fortnight’s time.
Slight improvement, then more snow in March
By mid-February, there will be a slight improvement but after a slight thaw and a fog blanket, snow is to return as March comes in, renewing the nightmare. Much of the land will be under an ice cap of snow old and new – a compacted six feet and more in Upper Teesdale and elsewhere – when milder air begins to creep in from the south west.
As the snow slowly melts, the soil remains icebound, vast lakes spread; and a gale on March 16th – ironically the first day of British Summer Time by the clocks – will precipitate a flooding disaster, while Scotland and Northern England are still an Arctic wilderness, York will see it’s worst flood since 1831.
For nearly eight weeks, snow is to fall somewhere every day, with most of the country snow-covered after this weekend. As April arrives with Easter, there will again be blizzards in the North Midlands and snowploughs out in the Peak District. Some sodden land will not re-emerge until May or June. After that, a hot summer is to bring droughts.
I was rooting about in the loft the other day and came across an old logbook of mine from when I lived in Ferryhill. It covered the period of late 1990 and early 1991. Immediately I took interest because there was a memorable period of heavy snowfall in February 1991. What is striking was that snow was 15” deep on 9th and 10th. I know I took some photos at the time, but can’t find them now unfortunately.
Here’s the page from the log.
As you can see, there was an air frost every night for the first 19 days. This sequence actually extended a lot further back into January 1991. There were actually air frosts every night from 21st January until 19th February. There were 24 air frosts in all in January.
February 1991 averaged 2.0 degC and January 1991 was only slightly warmer at 2.1 degC. As you can see, the last few days of February lift the average considerably, hiding what was quite a severe month, especially from 4th-14th.
This is really a forgotten winter for most people. Do you remember it?
The northern part of the county saw it’s first real snow of the winter on 12th December. It was confined to high levels, but gave a good covering in the high Pennines. Here’s a photo from twitter from the top of Killhope.
More photos from a friend of mine Barry Wilkinson who went skiing in Weardale.
Some nine years ago, we were in the grip of one of the most severe spells of weather to occur in the month of December for over 100 years. Around Durham, snowfall was very deep. Here’s a selection of photos taken by Gary Tidbury of the conditions around Framwellgate Moor in Durham.
A good mate of mine just posted these extraordinary photos on Facebook of an ‘Ice Spike’.
“This morning I had never heard of an ice spike and if I had ever seen one, would have had no idea what it was and shrugged it off as something strange. A post on another site had a photo of one happening in the great outdoors of Northumberland along with an explanation of the strange event. That reminded me that yesterday, in my small beaker used for inaccurate assumptions of rainfall measures, I had noticed a frozen stick shape protruding above the top. It must have been 6-8 cm long. I shrugged it off, wrongly presuming that by chance (a million to one ?) an icicle had fallen from the roof some 4 feet away and several higher and landed, unbroken in the beaker !?! On reading said post, I went outside to find this …”
When December 2010 came along, it was a complete shock to the system. There had been no below freezing December (average below 0.0 degC) since 1890. That’s 120 years. These are temperatures from the CET series (Central England Temperature).
Records in the CET go back as far as 1659.
So, let’s look at those sub-zero December years. The first is December 1676 (mean temp -0.5 degC). Back then, the temperatures were only recorded to the nearest half degree and there aren’t any daily temperatures available to me, so I can’t really embellish that too much other than say, imagine a below-freezing month when there were no heated houses. Brutal stuff.
Next in the list, after a big gap of 112 years, is December 1788 (-0.3). This time, daily temperatures are also available. December 1788 was generally cold throughout, but especially severe from the 12th to 23rd. There was a short milder period lasting only Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, before severely cold conditions returned between Christmas and New Year.
There was only a short few years before the next one in December 1796 (-0.3). This month contained the coldest ever Christmas Day (-10.8 degC). Again, there were two really cold spells : the start of the month until 11th December, and then around the Christmas period (20th-27th). The weather warmed up again towards the New Year.
Moving into the ‘Dickensian’ period, when snowfall became popularised on Christmas cards, the next sub-zero month was December 1874. This month averaged just below freezing at -0.2 degC. The first 13 days were on the chilly side at an average of 2.1 degC, before the really bitter weather set in after that until the end of the year. The period 14th-31st December averaged -2.0 degC, which is incredible for an 18 day period.
Another ‘Dickensian’ winter produced the next freezing cold December, just four years later in December 1878 (-0.3). This month, and the following January produced the third example of consecutive freezing months in the record (after Jan and Feb 1684, Jan and Feb 1740, before it happened again for a fourth time in the winter of 1962-63). In December 1878, the severe spell was slap bang in the middle of the month. The period 9th-26th December averaged -2.8 degC. By New Years Eve, it was up to a balmy 10 degC before the January deep-freeze regained it’s grip into the New Year.
And so to December 1890 (-0.8 degC). The last sub-zero December before 2010. The month was severe from the 9th until the year’s end. This period averaged -1.9 degC. The coldest day was 22nd December at -6.5 degC. December 1890 was actually the coldest December on record, closely followed by December 2010 (-0.7 degC).
Coldest December Days (1659 to date)
25th December 1796 -10.8 degC
12th December 1981 -8.5 degC
27th December 1798 -8.4 degC
28th December 1798 -8.2 degC
17th December 1859 -7.7 degC
31st December 1783 -7.1 degC
18th December 1859 -7.1 degC
20th December 2010 -7.0 degC
24th December 1870 -6.9 degC
19th December 2010 -6.8 degC
As can be seen, most of the extreme temperatures fell in the freezing months, the exceptions were in 1981 (a very cold month with a colossal amount of snow that just missed out on sub-zero status at +0.3 degC), December 1798 (a short exceptionally cold spell from Christmas Eve to the 29th), December 1859 (a short, very wintry spell between 13th and 19th), December 1783 (very cold immediately after Christmas) and 1870 (very cold in the last third of the month).
December 2010 was arguably the most remarkable of them all, because it occurred during the current warming trend, whilst the others were in the more traditionally accepted Maunder Minimum and Dickensian winters which were much colder on average anyway.
When will the next one be? It may not be in our lifetimes, or it may be in a couple of years, there’s really no way of knowing. However, Exacta Weather and The Daily Express seem to think it will occur every year! 😏
This is archived content that used to be on the Met Office website, but isn’t anymore so I decided to resurrect it for posterity, adding my own comments and adaptions. It’s a page to refer to when people talk about the harsh winters of 1946-47 and 1962-63, the two UK winters that are used as benchmarks for how bad winter can get.
Rarely in the UK – or anywhere, for that matter – is a train completely buried in snow. But that’s exactly what happened on Dartmoor in March 1891 and in northern Scotland in January 1978. The winters that produced such phenomenal snowstorms were not, however, generally snowy – unlike the remarkable winter of 1947, the snowiest since 1814.
Fig 1: A car stuck in snow at Hebden Bridge – 1963
Since daily meteorological records began in Britain in the 17th century, there have been a number of severe winters. The coldest of all was probably 1684, when the diarist John Evelyn took a coach to Lambeth along the frozen River Thames. Frost Fairs were frequent as the flow of the Thames was restricted by the bridges, slowing it down and making it more susceptible to freezing over.
There was an exceptionally cold and protracted winter in 1739/40 when, between November 1739 and May 1740, snow fell on 39 days in the London area. January in both 1795 and 1814 were colder than January 1740, and the month of February in 1855, 1895 and 1947 were colder than February 1740.
England and Wales would have to wait 223 years for a winter as cold as 1740: this came in 1963.
But what was so remarkable about the 1739/40 winter however, is that the mean temperatures of both January and February were below freezing (0 °C) in the Midlands and southern England. The only other known instance of two successive months with mean temperatures below freezing took place in December 1878 and January 1879.
Before the brutal winter of 1962-63, there was also the equally notorious winter of 1946-47.
The serious snowfall in 1947
Although there were many shorter wintry interludes before Christmas in the winter of 1946-47, the ‘famous’ part of the winter didn’t really get going until the last third of January (see below).
From 22th January to 17th March in 1947, snow fell every day somewhere in the UK, with the weather so cold that the snow accumulated to a great depth. The temperature seldom rose more than a degree or two above freezing, which meant that very little melt occurred and snow just piled up, layer upon layer, until great drifts were everywhere.
There were several snowfalls of 60cm (2 ft) or more, and depths of level snow reached 150 cm (6 ft) in upper Teesdale and the Denbighshire Hills. Across Britain, drifts more than five metres (16 ft) deep blocked roads and railways. People were cut off for days. The armed services dropped supplies by helicopter to isolated farmsteads and villages, and helped to clear roads and railways.
The Calm Before the Storm
In mid January 1947, no-one expected the winter to go down in the annals as the snowiest since 1814 and among the coldest on record. After two cold spells that had failed to last – one before Christmas 1946, the other during the first week of January – the weather had turned unseasonably mild.
Fig 2: 0600 UTC on 31 January 1947. A low near the channel islands and high over southern Scandinavia, a typical pressure situation during the 1947 winter. Occlusion giving snow over southern counties of England.
During the night of 15-16th January, the temperature at Leeming in North Yorkshire didn’t fall below 11.7 °C. The following day, maximum temperatures close to 14 °C were recorded in Norfolk, Herefordshire and Flintshire. All this mildness was soon to change.
An area of high pressure moved northwards from France on 18th January. Two days later, the anticyclone was centred off north-west Norway. It then drifted south-east to southern Scandinavia, and dominated the weather over the British Isles for the rest of the month. The first night frost came on the 20th and the winter began in earnest on the 23rd, when snow fell heavily over the south and south-west of England. Even in the Isles of Scilly, a few centimetres of snow fell. The blizzard in south-west England was the worst since 1891; many villages in Devon were isolated.
1947’s Unrelenting harsh weather
The cold, snowy weather continued through February and into March. Any breaks in the cold weather were short-lived.
On no day in February 1947 did the temperature at Kew Observatory top 4.4 °C, and only twice in the month was the night minimum temperature above 0 °C
The mean maximum temperature for the month was 0.5 °C (6.9 °C below average) and the mean minimum was -2.7 °C (4.6 °C below average)
On 26 of the month’s 28 days, snow was lying at 0900 UTC
South of a line from The Wash to the River Dee, mean maximum temperatures were everywhere more than 5.5 °C below average and, in some places, more than 7 °C below average
Mean minimum temperatures were more than 4 °C below average everywhere in the south and south-west of England, and almost 6 °C below average in some places
February 1947 was the coldest February on record in many places and, for its combination of low temperatures with heavy snow, bore comparison with January 1814.
One notable feature of February 1947 was the lack of precipitation in parts of western Scotland. Because of the persistent anticyclonic conditions, some places that were normally very wet had no rain at all. A completely dry month in western Scotland is unusual. It was unprecedented in February.
Another unusual feature of February 1947 was the lack of sunshine in the Midlands and south of England – a complete contrast to the north-west of Scotland, where the weather was unusually sunny.
At Kew, Nottingham and Edgbaston, there was no sun on 22 of the month’s 28 days. At Kew, there was none at all from the 2nd to the 22nd. Hardly anywhere in the Midlands and southern England did the sunshine totals for the month exceed 40 per cent of the long term average.
When skies did clear, night-time temperatures plunged. A minimum of -21 °C was recorded at Woburn in Bedfordshire early on 25 February. Without the cloud, the month would almost certainly have been even colder than it was, certainly at night.
March 1947 : More snow, flooding and then gales
In some parts of the British Isles, snow fell on as many as 26 days in February 1947. Much of the snow was powdery and was soon whipped into deep drifts by the strong winds.
If February hadn’t been enough, March was even worse. In the first half of the month, there were more gales and heavy snowstorms.
Fig 3: The flooding of 1947
On 4th and 5th March, heavy snow fell over most of England and Wales, with severe drifting. On 6th March, drifts were five metres (16 ft) deep in the Pennines and three metres (10 ft) deep in the Chilterns. In some places, glazed frost occurred. On 10th and 11th March, southern Scotland had its heaviest snowfall of the winter, and the snowstorm reached the Scottish Highlands, where, on 12th March, drifts more than seven metres (23 ft) deep were reported.
Meanwhile, mild air with a temperature of 7-10 °C edged into the extreme south-west of the British Isles on 10th March, bringing rain. The ensuing thaw was rapid. By the evening of 11th March, vast areas of southern England were under water. After weeks of frost, the ground was frozen hard. The rain and meltwater couldn’t soak into the ground. Surface run-off was the only option.
The warm air spread northwards and eastwards. Meltwater from the Welsh mountains poured into the valleys of the Severn and Wye, flooding Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. The rivers of the English Midlands burst their banks. By 13th March, Fenland rivers were close to overspilling.
On 15th March, a deepening depression from the Atlantic approached the British Isles, bringing rain and severe gales. During the afternoon of 16th March, mean winds over southern England reached 50 knots, with gusts of 80-90 knots.
Buildings were damaged and waves were whipped up on floodwaters. In East Anglia, where the major rivers flow north-eastwards, the south-westerly wind drove water before it and waves pounded the dykes. Water levels rose and the dykes gave way. Most of the Fenland was inundated. Troops were called in, but they could do little to stop water pouring through the breached dykes.
River levels rose relentlessly. For example, the banks of the Trent burst at Nottingham on 18th March and hundreds of homes were flooded, many to first floor level. When floodwater reached the tidal part of the Trent, it was impeded by a high spring tide, and the whole of the lower Trent valley was flooded.
The floods in the West Country subsided after 20th March, but rivers continued to rise in eastern England. The Wharfe, Derwent, Aire and Ouse all burst their banks and flooded a huge area of southern Yorkshire. The town of Selby was almost completely under water. Only the ancient abbey and a few streets around the market place escaped inundation. Seventy per cent of all houses in the town were flooded.
Fig 4: Maximum and minimum temperatures Edgbaston, Warwickshire 15 Dec 1946-16 Mar 1947
The cold and snowy weather had, at last, ended, but the misery of the floods continued into the spring. And to make matters worse, the severe difficulties caused by the winter of 1947 were aggravated by the fuel and food shortages that remained after the Second World War.
1962-63 was the coldest winter since 1740
The winter of 1962/63 was the coldest over England and Wales since 1740. As in 1947, anticyclones to the north and east of the British Isles brought bitterly cold winds from the east day after day. As in 1947, depressions followed tracks to southward of the British Isles and their fronts brought snow to England, Wales and the southernmost parts of Scotland.
Mean maximum temperatures for January 1963 were more than 5 °C below average over most of Wales, the Midlands and southern England and in some places more than 7 °C below average. Mean minimum temperatures over this area were equally far below average. The story was much the same in February.
The winter began abruptly, just before Christmas in December 1962. The weather in the first three weeks of December was changeable and sometimes stormy, but not particularly snowy. From the 4th to the 6th December, London experienced its worst spell of fog since the Great Smog of 1952.
Ten days later, the weather was particularly wet and stormy, with a gust of 88 knots recorded at Blackpool during the night of 15/16th December, the strongest since records began there in 1946. The weather situation changed markedly on 22nd December. On the 23rd, high pressure extended all the way from the southern Baltic to Cornwall, bringing cold easterly winds to much of England and Wales.
A belt of rain over northern Scotland on Christmas Eve turned to snow as it moved south, giving Glasgow its first white Christmas since 1938. The snow belt reached southern England on Boxing Day and became almost stationary. The following day, snow lay five centimetres deep in the Channel Islands and 30 cm (1 ft) deep in much of southern England.
Fig 5: The start of the winter: the cold front that brought the snow to England on 26 December 1962. Chart for 0600 UTC on 26 December.
A blizzard over south-west England and south Wales on 29th and 30th December brought snowdrifts 6m (20 ft) deep. Villages were cut off, some for several days. Roads and railways were blocked. Telephone wires were brought down. Stocks of food ran low. Farmers couldn’t reach their livestock. Thousands of sheep, ponies and cattle starved to death in the fields.
From Boxing Day 1962 to early March 1963, much of England was continuously under snow. Unlike the winter of 1947, however, 1962/63 was sunnier than average in most parts of the area affected, considerably so in some places.
Manchester’s sunshine total for January was more than twice the average. Even in the south of England, where snow fell frequently, sunshine totals were above average in most places.
The most remarkable feature of the 1962/63 winter was not so much its snowiness as its coldness. The winter of 1947 was snowier than 1962/63, but not as cold.
In January 1963, there were 25 or more air frosts almost everywhere in southern England and south Wales. In February 1963, air frost occurred every night at Durham, and almost every night in the English Midlands. At several stations in southern England and south Wales, mean maximum temperatures were below 0 °C in January and little higher in February. Mean minimum temperatures were well below freezing almost everywhere in England, Wales and Scotland away from coasts. Extremely low temperatures were recorded – for example, a minimum of -22.2 °C was recorded at Braemar on 18th January.
Fig 6: Maximum and minimum temperatures Leckford, Hampshire 8 Dec 1962 – 9 Mar 1963
Lakes and rivers froze. Ice formed on harbours in the south and east of England. Patches of ice formed on the sea. Huge blocks of ice formed on beaches where waves broke and the spray froze. Coastal marine life suffered severely.
As in 1947, so it was in the winter of 1962/63: brief thaws occurred from time to time, and winter didn’t fully relax its grip before early March. In the last few days of February and the first few days of March 1963, sunny weather brought afternoon temperatures of 4 or 5 °C, but clear skies allowed temperatures to plummet at night. Frosts were moderate or severe.
At last, on 4th March, a mild south-westerly flow of air reached the British Isles. There was occasional rain that day in most parts of Britain, and further rain the following day in the west and north, this time prolonged. On 6th March, there was no frost anywhere in the British Isles and the temperature in London reached 17 °C – the highest since 25th October 1962.
The coldest winter over England and Wales since 1740, and the coldest over Scotland since 1879, had ended. With the thaw came flooding, but nothing like the scale of the 1947 floods. Soon after the winter of 1962/63, life returned to normal.
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