The UK isn’t known for its cold winters, even though some areas are more prone to snow and freezing temperatures than others. The Scottish Highlands see some snow each year – some more than others – and the ski resorts up there are glad of it.
But there’s snow… and then there’s real snow. We had a bad winter back in 2009, when most of the UK was covered by snow. Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands coped with a whopping 61cm of snow in December 2009. Temperatures across the country struggled to get above freezing.
Even though snow to that extent is rare in so much of the UK, we had another rough time in 2010-11 as well. This time, the maximum snow depth hit 76cm. But for those old enough to remember, even this snow was relatively dull compared to the winter of 1962-63. This is otherwise known as the Big Freeze of 1963. Not only did the country experience significant snowfall, temperatures dropped well below freezing – so much so, lakes and rivers all over the place began to freeze.
It became colder over Christmas, and Boxing Day saw large amounts of snow falling over the south of England. Worse was yet to come. The end of the year saw a blizzard strike Wales and the south-western portion of England. Things didn’t let up during January either. Indeed, the average temperature that month was a chilly -2.1 degrees Celsius. That is still the record for the coldest month recorded since the early 1800s! It was so cold even the sea froze at Herne Bay, Kent. February didn’t let up either, with a 36-hour blizzard arriving that led to fresh – and large – snowdrifts.
We can go back further still to find the so-called ‘mini ice age’ that led to temperatures as low as -9 Celsius in 1739-40. It began innocently enough with frost on Christmas Day, but the snow soon came too and the winter chill lasted through until February.
Meanwhile, you can go back further still to learn of the Great Frost of 1683-84. This led directly to the famous Frost Fair in London, which took full advantage of the Thames being frozen over. Reports say the Thames was frozen with a layer of ice measuring some 11cm thick.
So, while we’ve seen some snow this year, it’s far from the drama we’ve had in the past, and the drama some of our ancestors saw. We doubt there will be another winter quite like those in our lifetime, but then again, you just never know, do you? Would you be ready for minus temperatures throughout an entire month?