‘Since Records Began’: The Coldest Winters In British History
Meteorologists are predicting the worst winter in decades for 2013-14, spreading dread of disrupted transport, closed schools and huge heating bills.
Despite our love for moaning about the weather, the UK actually experiences a very mild climate compared to our Northern European cousins. But when the cold hits, it hits bad. Because these particularly harsh winters are so rare, we get hit by our lack of preparation and extreme cold snaps can have a huge effect on the country. Despite being one of the most developed countries in the world, the UK grinds to a halt as soon as temperatures drop.
The coldest winter ever recorded over the past two hundred years is the winter of 1962- 3. Cars drove over the frozen Thames in Oxford, and the Dover Strait nearly froze over entirely, connecting the UK and France through an ice bridge.
A post-Christmas blizzard beginning on December 29th paralysed the country; causing snow drifts of up to 20 feet. The following January was the coldest month of the century, freezing the entire country into a sheet of ice, making transportation near impossible.
This winter is notable for massively disrupting football fixtures for the 1962-3 season. Hardly any matches were played for three months, and a catch-up rush of near daily games covered March, when the country finally thawed out and temperatures rose to a pleasant 17 degrees. Halifax football club re-opened its pitch as an ice skating rink during the January freeze.
Another notably cold window was 1946-7, where heavy snowfall seriously damaged a Britain that was still recovering from the ramifications of the war. The snap cut British industrial production by a devastating 10%. Power stations were forced to shut down and electrical blackouts were forced on the country. Food production was cut significantly, with corn and vegetable crops destroyed by the frozen ground and 25% of the UK’s sheep froze to death.
Temperatures hit an astonishing minus 21 degrees in February, and a quick thaw in mid-March then led to widespread flooding that affected 100,000 homes, meaning the difficult times carried on until late spring.
It was a seriously grim winter for a country in recovery, and even changed Britain’s political landscape, as national morale turned against Labour who had introduced fuel and media production cuts over the winter. The Conservative Party won the next election in 1950, and historians believe the winter of 46-7 was a huge factor for the turn.
The misery was compounded by the near-constant cloudiness, meaning Brits were even paler than usual. In February 1947, the sun appeared for only 6 days of the month in areas of the midlands.
Though the country has modernised since, we still struggle with snow and ice. If the predictions are true, make sure you’re prepared for a difficult winter!