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Winter Chills : The Great Winters of 1947 and 1963 in the UK

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.

picture of a car stuck in snow at Hebden Bridge – 1963

Fig 1: A car stuck in snow at Hebden Bridge – 1963

Severe winters

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 22 January to 17 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 depths were evident.

There were several snowfalls of 60cm or more, and depths of level snow reached 150 cm in upper Teesdale and the Denbighshire Hills. Across Britain, drifts more than five metres 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.

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

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 15-16 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 was soon to change.

An area of high pressure moved northwards from France on 18 January. Two days later, the anticyclone was centred off north-west Norway. It then drifted south-east to southern Scandinavia, and dominated 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 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 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.

A picture of a bus driving through water during the flooding of 1947

Fig 3: The flooding of 1947

On 4 and 5 March, heavy snow fell over most of England and Wales, with severe drifting. On 6 March, drifts were five metres deep in the Pennines and three metres deep in the Chilterns. In some places, glazed frost occurred. On 10 and 11 March, southern Scotland had its heaviest snowfall of the winter, and the snowstorm reached the Scottish Highlands, where, on 12 March, drifts more than seven metres deep were reported.

Meanwhile, mild air with a temperature of 7-10 °C edged into the extreme south-west of the British Isles on 10 March, bringing rain. The ensuing thaw was rapid. By the evening of 11 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 13 March, Fenland rivers were close to overspilling.

On 15 March, a deepening depression from the Atlantic approached the British Isles, bringing rain and severe gales. During the afternoon of 16 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 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 18 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 spring tide, and the whole of the lower Trent valley was flooded.

The floods in the West Country subsided after 20 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.

A graph of Maximum and minimum temperatures Edgbaston, Warwickshire 15 Dec 1946-16 Mar 1947

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 15/16 December, the strongest since records began in 1946. The weather situation changed markedly on 22 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 24 December 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 deep in much of southern England.

Weather chart showing 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.

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 29 and 30 December brought snowdrifts 6 m 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.

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 18 January.

A graph of Maximum and minimum temperatures Leckford, Hampshire 8 Dec 1962 - 9 Mar 1963

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 4 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 6 March, there was no frost anywhere in the British Isles and the temperature in London reached 17 °C – the highest since 25 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.

photograph of a boat stranded and surrounded by ice in a harbour in southern england ring the winter of 1962-63

Fig 7: Coastal areas were affected by ice
Photo © Lynn Tait Gallery

Review of Davis Vantage Vue Wireless Weather Station

Description of the Davis Vantage Vue Weather Station.

The new Davis Vantage Vue weather station combines Davis’ legendary accuracy and rugged durability into a compact station. It’s very easy to set up and use (see the video below). The Davis Vantage Vue includes a sleek but tough outdoor sensor array and the distinctive LCD console. Its unique Weather Center function provides additional information on each weather variable being measured.

In addition, Davis has made Vantage Vue radio-compatible with the flagship Vantage Pro2 stations so you can mix-and-match most components. This is a fantastic feature because sometimes a mix of sensors will give you better coverage, or you may have old sensors lying around that you’d still like to use.

Applications:

Home weather watching and gardening. The Vantage Vue is ideal for this, allowing you to measure the microclimates in your garden.

Schools and universities. Ideal for educational uses, where meteorology may be taught as part of the curriculum.

Marinas and vacation homes. Keep tabs on weather conditions that might effect safety and movement of vessels and while at sea.

Fire fighting and emergency response. In responding to alarms, it will be useful to know details of the local conditions to allow optimum response tactics.

davis vantage view instrument head showing anemometer, rain gauge and thermometer screen

Vantage Vue Specifications:

Updates every 2.5 seconds (up to 10x faster than the competition). The update speed can be vital if you are visually monitoring rapidly changing channels such as windspeed. It gives far more of a ‘real-time’ feel to the weather. The speed indicated will coincide with your roof slates rattling in the wind!

Wireless transmission up to 1000 ft. (300 m) is 3x farther than the competition. Wireless transmission distance gives so much flexibility if you need the sensors more remote from your Davis base station. This is in fact crucial to a correct weather station installation because the sensors need to be as far away as possible from buildings and obstructions that may modify the readings. By giving a greater range, the Davis Vantage Vue should ensure that doesn’t happen.

Records wind speed as low as 2 mph (3 km/hr) and as high as 150 mph (241 km/hr). That is a phenomenal range, and means the Davis Vantage Vue can be used in a greater range of extreme conditions. Gust speeds of 150mph are not recorded in low level locations in the UK. You can be safe in the knowledge that when the weather gets really wild, the Vantage Vue weather station will cope. In more extreme situations like direct hits from Hurricanes in the USA for example, the Davis Vantage may still function, but the structure it is fixed to may have blown away. It will probably be the least of your worries.

Solar-powered with stored energy backup. Although weather stations have been independent of power sources for a good while now, the bane of the installation has often been the need to change the sensor batteries. The Davis Vantage Vue gets round this by having a solar charged battery and a reserve that is trickle charged using the same source. It is unlikely that the sensors will not receive enough sunlight to keep them charged, the only place I can think of is if the installation is in the Arctic or Antarctic Circle where the sun isn’t visible for long periods. This obviously won’t happen elsewhere. Even in the cloudiest conditions you’ll still have enough juice to keep things going.

Easy-to-read, backlit LCD screen at 3″ x 4-3/8″ (8 x 11 cm). The LCD screen on the Davis Vantage Vue is easily big enough to read. Sometimes weather stations cram so much data onto a small screen making things impossible to read properly. Sometimes we just casually glance at the display to get a mental snapshot of conditions. The Davis Vantage Vue display makes sure this is always possible. The backlit screen is vital in low light and Davis has made sure it’s there for us.
Features: Displays indoor and outdoor temperature and humidity, barometric pressure, wind speed, wind direction, rainfall and more.

Sealed electronics in the integrated sensor suite provide protection against the elements. In some cheaper weather stations the weather gets into the electronics, typically after a few years out in the elements. Cracks develop, glue is compromised and the station will suddenly fail, leaving you with no data, or data that starts to be corrupted by compromised circuitry. Not so the Davis.

Glow-in-the-dark keypad for night viewing and domed buttons for better feel. Sometimes you just need to sneak a peek at your weather dashboard, especially if the weather you are interested in is going down in the middle of the night and you don’t want to disturb the rest of the house. The Davis Vantage Vue has a night viewing option, accesses by the LIGHT button to the top left of the keypad. The domed buttons are also so much more tactile and a keypress is so much more positive, getting rid of that ‘did I or didn’t I’ feeling.

Frequency-hopping spread spectrum radio for reliable data transmission. We see this kind of thing more often than not in Wifi router settings. The Davis will automatically look for and switch to a more reliable connection to it’s sensors if it detects that a particular channel is not giving optimum connectivity. This means you can be confident the base station is always using the strongest possible channel to get it’s data from the instruments. This is particularly useful if your installation is in an area that is particularly prone to radio noise, like a factory or other industrial site.

50 on-screen graphs for comparing current and past weather. That’s the versatility of the Vantage Vue console. Almost every combination of graphs are there for you as a standard part of the operating software.

22 alarms to warn of dangers such as high winds, possible flooding and more. One of the great facilities is to have audible alarms to alert you when you can’t be looking at the display.

Radio compatible with Vantage Pro2. This means you can use Vantage Pro2 sensors with your Vantage Vue weather station.

Optional WeatherLink software for extensive weather analysis and data storage. PC, Mac and Internet versions. All of the great onscreen information can be enhanced even further by interfacing with your computer. The Weatherlink software allows for the generation of monthly and yearly reports in standard NOAA format.

Davis Vantage Vue Overview of Console Video

(Durhamweather.co.uk will receive a fee if you order a Davis Vantage Vue through this link)

Vantage Vue Technical Details

Product Dimensions 48.3 x 38.1 x 17.8 cm ; 3.18 Kg
Part number 6250

Display

height 6 inches
length 14 inches
width 9 inches
weight 3.18 Kilograms
Material type Plastic

The Vantage Vue Keyboard

davis vantage vue keyboard layout

Use the keyboard to access and scroll through current and historical data for individual variables, set and clear alarms, enter calibration values, set up and view graphs, and view detailed weather information available for each variable.

The keyboard consists of 12 command keys and four navigation keys.
A weather variable or console command is printed on each command key. Just press a key to select the variable or function printed on that key.

Each command key also has a secondary function which is printed above the first row of keys or below the second row of keys. To select the secondary function, press and release 2ND and then immediately press the key for that function.

After pressing 2ND, the 2nd icon displays above the moon phase icon on the screen indicating that all secondary key functions are enabled. Keys resume normal operation after the icon disappears (about 7-8 seconds).

The + and – navigation keys along with the < and > navigation keys are used to select command options, adjust values, and to provide additional functions when used in combination with a command key.

An arrow appears next to the variable selected in the display.

In Current Weather Mode, the display shows the time and date, the likely forecast within the next 12 hours, current moon phase, and weather information for up to 8 different weather variables at a time. It also displays additional information pertinent to a selected variable in the Weather Center in the bottom right section of the console screen.

The Screen Display and Layout of Modes

davis vantage vue console display layout and modes

Powering up the Vantage Vue console

The Vantage Vue console does not require the use of an AC adapter. You may use the included adapter if you wish, but three C-cell batteries (not included) should power a wireless console for up to nine months. You can use either of these or both together, with the batteries providing backup power for the adapter.

The console will display messages if any of your system’s batteries are low.

LOW CONSOLE BATTERIES: Replace the console batteries

LOW BATTERY TRANSMITTER (ID#): Replace the battery in your outdoor Integrated Sensor Suite (ISS) or any optional transmitting station you may have added.

Installing the Batteries

The battery compartment is located on the base of the main unit

davis vantage vue battery installation location

The Davis Vantage Vue can also be powered with an AC mains unit which connects to the right hand side, in a recess just behind the main console. The manual warns not to use any other AC mains adapter as it may damage the unit.

Console Location

Place the console in a location where the keyboard is easily accessible and the display is easy to read. For more accurate readings, follow these suggestions.

  • Avoid placing the console in direct sunlight. This may cause erroneous inside temperature and humidity readings and may damage the unit.
  • Avoid placing the console near radiators or heating/air conditioning ducts.
  • If you are mounting the console on a wall, choose an interior wall. Avoid exterior walls that tend to heat up or cool down depending on the weather.
  • Avoid positioning a wireless console near large metallic appliances such as refrigerators, televisions, heaters, or air conditioners.
  • The console antenna does not rotate in a complete circle. Avoid forcing the console antenna when rotating it.
  • Be aware of possible interference from cordless phones or other devices. To prevent interference, maintain a distance of 10 feet (3 meters) between the Vantage Vue console and a cordless phone (handset and base).

Using the Davis Vantage Vue Weather Station

The console LCD screen and keyboard provide easy access to your weather information. The LCD display shows current and past weather conditions as well as a forecast of future conditions. The keyboard controls console functions for viewing current and historical weather information, setting and clearing alarms, viewing and/or changing station settings, setting up and viewing graphs, and more.

The Vantage Vue Console has 5 different modes

davis vantage vue mode of operations table

All of these are explained in great detail in the manual, which is excellent.

Some Questions and Answers about the Davis Vantage Vue Weather Station.

Can the console be connected directly into the router via usb and if so, what size is the usb connection on the console end ?

No, the USB connection is only for connection of the console to a Windows PC. You would need a third part product such as Meteobridge and a receiver to allow this to read data directly from the weather station sensor suite.

Does this need the data logger to connect to a pc? or can you just use a usb cable to connect and view on cumulus or similar?

Hi, the original data logger was through a USB cable from the console to your PC. I had this system but found that sometimes the USB port went down (or some other glitch) and you would find the weather software ( I use Weather Display) wasnt up to date. Plus you had to leave your laptop on all the time if you wanted to send your date to Wunderground, Noaa, PWSweather etc. I found the solution. A company called prodata Sytems developed a Wifi solution. A small card fits into the Console port and it communicates with your internet router. It sends all the info to the external places and you dont need your pc running all the time.

Can the censor be fixed to the gable end of the house facing west where the prevailing winds come from?

Can be mounted anywhere on the house…the higher the better.The solar panel must point south to get the sun all day….rise in the east and set in the west.Just to let you know the whole unit freely moves to measure the wind from what ever direction it comes from

Conclusion

This is for anyone wanting to set up a weather station that is a) a little bit more robust and b) a little bit more professional, the Davis Vantage Vue is really the model you should buy. It is easy to set up, and get the sensors connected. It is reliable because of the wireless channel switching capability, and Davis is pretty much the industry standard now for amateur weather station technology.

(Durhamweather.co.uk will receive a fee if you order a Davis Vantage Vue through this link)

Rapid Rise in The River Wear – 16th March 2019

Heavy rain overnight on 16th March resulted in the River Wear rising to 2.36m just after 9pm. This was a rise of 1.8m in less than 12 hours. The river was a raging torrent, lapping over riverside paths. The river also carried lots of broken tree branches and wood downstream, snagging on bridges and the weirs further around ‘the loop’.

My weather station in Gilesgate only recorded 13mm of rain on the 16th, so the rainfall must have been much heavier in the hills that feed the River Wear in the previous day.

The River Wear has been much higher than this in the past, but this episode was remarkable because of the rate of rise.

You can check the river level in Durham at any time by following the link on the Useful Weather Links page here

Click below to see a video from 16th March 2019 as we walked the riverside paths.

Durham Weather on the road – Iceland trip 2017


Durham Weather went on the road in March 2017 for a trip to Iceland. The highlight of the trip was the Golden Circle drive up to Gullfoss waterfall. Not surprisingly, it was incredibly cold!

We also visited Geysir where hot springs and bubbling mud pools are regularly interrupted by the erupting Guysers.

Iceland is an incredible place for anyone interested in how Planet Earth works. It’s highly recommended for a visit, but it’s a bit expensive. 😏

Enormous waves batter Seaham and Sunderland – 13th January 2017

Fantastic footage from the storm surge that hit the East Coast on 13th January 2017. The waves almost completely engulfed the harbour wall. Video by Jack Turton.


Here’s more footage from Seaburn near Sunderland. The sea actually looks like it’s boiling. This footage from Mrs Doyle goes fishing.

Website created by D.K. O'Hara Copyright 2018.

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