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Weather History

You are in: London > Weather > Weather History > The Big Freeze of 1963

The Big Freeze 1963

The Big Freeze of 1963

More than 45 years ago two feet of snow caused chaos in the capital and the mayhem lasted for two months!

By Peter Cockroft, BBC London Meteorologist

The first four inches of snow arrived on Boxing Day as Brenda Lee was "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" on the wireless.

Then on the night of December 29th bitter Siberian easterly winds delivered another 10 inches of drifting powdery snow.

Staff at the London Weather Centre measured the snow as they struggled into work.

The Big Freeze 1963

In Chelsea the snow level was seven inches deep with drifts of two feet.

Out at Gravesend 14 inches of snow lay on the ground with the drifts reaching six feet.

New Year's Eve was one of the quietest anyone could remember with few Londoners wanting to brave the freezing weather and temperatures remained close to or below zero till March.

Despite some minor thawing, the white blanket covered London for the next two months.

In fact, in mid January Arctic winds brought another four inches of snow; In early February the Siberian cold returned with yet another four inches of the white stuff!

Road and rail transport was severely disrupted, the airports closed and the Thames froze over.

The Navy managed to keep Chatham dockyard open by using an icebreaker but the other London docks remained closed with ice floes and mini icebergs on the river.

The knock on effect was around a 30% increase in the price of fresh foods and millions of milk bottles disappeared.

Snowy, but sunny

To add to the misery power cuts became the norm, refuse remained uncollected and people had to get water from road tankers as the mains supply froze as well.

Sport was a major victim with the FA Cup draw becoming a farce . . . "the winners of A or B will play the winners of C or D" etc. etc.

Chelsea got so fed up they flew off to Malta to play a friendly and ended up staying for a week.

The Big Freeze 1963

The weather didn't do them any favours. They'd been on a roll up to the big freeze then once the season got going again they went on a losing streak.

Mind you, they did get promoted to the old First Division (now the Premiership) in the end, but it all hung on the final match.

It wasn't all bad news. Although bitterly cold, January and February were exceptionally sunny.

Along with the more usual winter pastimes of tobogganing and snowman building, the plucky Brits invented some new ones.

The Thames saw its first car rally on the ice and instead of water skiing some one had the bright idea of towing skiers across the ice behind a car!

Then in March the thaw set in. The ice and snow melted away. The dairies got their milk bottles back and Cliff Richard tried to cheer everyone up with thoughts of a "Summer Holiday".

last updated: 07/01/2009 at 17:29
created: 04/09/2008

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