Why do we get so excited about snow?Continue reading the main story
All figures are long-term averages between 1971 and 2000. Days of snow refers to the number of days when there was snow on the ground at 0900. Maximum temperature is between 0900 and 2100. Minimum temperature is between 2100 and 0900.
For many in the UK, snow is something special, something we get sentimental about, something fascinating. But why do we feel this way about it?
Waking up and walking out on a snowy morning, in the UK at least, is a singular feeling.
Despite every adult's concern about an ill-prepared transport network grinding to a halt, we are also wrapped up in the crunch of the snow underfoot, the muffling of distant sounds and the all-encompassing white blanket.
Snow reminds us of our youth and also, despite the disconnect with reality, of Christmas. People buy Christmas cards with snow on them, even in parts of the country that do not regularly get festive snow.
Christina Rossetti's famous lines, originally for a poem, although better known as the lyrics to a carol, are one of the more notable descriptions of snow:
In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
But our sentimental attitude towards snow doesn't go back throughout history.
- 1693: Channel froze
- 1708-09: Freeze and starvation in Europe
- 1947: Coal and oil run low in UK
- 1962-63: Parts of upper Thames freeze
"In the Middle Ages bad weather meant you died," says Robert Penn, co-author of The Wrong Kind of Snow: How the Weather Made Britain.
"Weather as a mere inconvenience is relatively new - it used to be a matter of life and death."
For farmers snow could damage crops and prevent work being done, and the spring thaw could mean flooding for the unfortunate.
It's hard to imagine a peasant of 1550 bouncing out of his hut on a snowy morning and joyfully reaching to scoop up a snowball.
Soldiers have historically not relished snow. Going back to ancient times, military campaigning often stopped completely in winter. Snow makes movement hard.
Historians argue about how much of a role the Russian winter played in the defeat of Napoleon in 1812, but the damage it did to the retreating Grande Armee is immortalised in a slew of snowy and brutal paintings.
The deadliest battle in English history, at Towton during the Wars of the Roses, was fought in heavy snow despite being at the end of March. Artists rendered the contrast of red and white with gusto.
In World War II vast, snowy landscapes were the backdrop to battles everywhere from Russia to the siege of Bastogne, in Belgium, where American troops were encircled in a wintry surprise attack.
The weather can have effects on more than just agriculture and warfare. The cold winter of 1947 helped change the attitude of the Labour government to "economic conservatism" as coal and oil supplies ran low, argues Mr Penn.
Our sentimentality about snow is a product of the "post-starvation age" in the UK, at least.
"The idea of it being something we go out and celebrate is pretty recent," insists Mr Penn.
And of course, snow as a rarity is also a relatively recent thing.
Between the 16th Century and the 19th Century we suffered the Little Ice Age. And between 1650 and 1850 snow would have been a common occurrence in the UK, with 1693 seeing the English Channel frozen, says Mr Penn.
"Winters were truly bitter, the land was dead and concrete-solid."
The recent British excitement - in the looser sense - about snow might be to do with its rarity in the very recent past.
"Cold winters do tend to clusters in twos, threes and fours when the Atlantic westerlies are at their weakest," says Philip Eden, author of Great British Weather Disasters.
These winds from the west bring the "classic" British winter, which can be wet and windy but is not particularly cold. When they are weak, the snow comes. Mr Eden says we are in such a period of weakening westerlies.
Despite three consecutive years of significant snow, we still find it a novelty. That might not be unrelated to a long period - 1989 to 2002 - where the westerlies didn't weaken and we had mild winters, says Mr Eden.
If you were born in the 1980s or 1990s, the recent snowy years must seem rather exciting. Mr Eden concedes there might very well be a relationship between snow fascination and snow frequency in the UK.
"Places in the world that get snow very occasionally are likely to get out and enjoy it when it happens."
Should it snow in San Francisco or northern Florida or Riyadh (last significant snowfall January 1973), people are going to head out to toboggan.
But people do still get snow joy where snow is perennially guaranteed. Labrador in Canada is one such place. Because the mechanisms are in place for people to cope with snow as a challenge to livelihood, people can therefore enjoy it.
"People are very excited. They are looking forward to getting out on Skidoos (snowmobiles), and enjoying the outdoor lifestyle," says Luke Barry, of the Labradorian newspaper.
There is skating and ice-fishing and instead of making transport more difficult, new routes are opened as lakes freeze.
"Where the winter can last four to five, even six months of the year, you can't stay indoors. People still make snowmen in Labrador," says Mr Barry.
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Of course, in the UK, with the lower level of preparedness, there are many who greet the sight of snow with gloom. And it isn't just drivers and parents with children at shut schools that feel that way.
"A lot of people hate it," says Mr Eden. "As people grow older they can find they hate it. I recognise an element of that in myself. You begin to worry about falling over. But there are some young people who don't like it."
For many people though, there is something fascinating about the snow. It's easy to forget that we've had some ferociously cold snowy post-war winters, like 1947 and 1963, when the snow-restricted period in the 1990s is so recent.
"Our weather memories are remarkably short," says Mr Penn. "We are like goldfish about it. If you ask people when it snowed last winter I bet they would struggle to say."