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The Big freeze. How does it compare?

Paul Hudson | 14:17 UK time, Wednesday, 6 January 2010

The severe weather will be with us for some considerable time. Latest indications are that the next 10 days, taking us up to and through the middle of January, will remain bitterly cold with severe night frosts and further snow fall. Already depths in some areas are in excess of 30cms, with some northern Pennine areas now reporting 40 cms of snow, according to the Met office. Even the suburbs of Leeds have around 20 cms. These snow depths have not been seen since the winter of 1981/1982.

Of interest will be the strengthening easterly wind through Friday and the weekend and into next week. This will bring snow showers, frequent at times especially to eastern areas, with a risk of significant further accumulations. The drifting of lying snow will become a big problem. Already 10 feet drifts have been reported around villages close to Saddleworth moor.

So how does this rate with previous winters? It's already the longest cold spell since the winter of 1981/1982. It's impossible to make further comparisons with other winters because we are still only in the early part of January. But the most notable ones were 1978/79, 1962/63 and 1946/47.

1962/63 was the coldest of the last century. There was a lot of snow, but the dominant easterly weather pattern was also clear at times, which lead to very low overnight temperatures but sparkling Arctic type sunny days.

1946/47 was not statistically as cold, but much snowier and very grey. It was all in all a very miserable winter and because it was so soon after the second world war rationing was still in place, and such were the snow depths that some remote villages were cut off and close to starvation, unable to be reached from the outside.

So although the statistics tells us that 1962/63 was the coldest, people who lived through both winters will tell you that 1946/47 had much more impact and was far worse for a number of reasons.

Both winters had temporary milder interludes, but the cold air lasted through the winter and into March. When the thaw came, especially in 1947, widespread severe flooding followed.

Both winters were also dominated by strong easterly winds at times, and drifts were 15ft deep and more. Similar drifts are likely as we head through the weekend across higher parts of Yorkshire.

I'm on an outside broadcast in Stamford Bridge, East Yorkshire, this evening. I will add more as soon as I can free up some time, and will comment about how well this was predicted and possible explanations for the type of weather we are having.


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