South Scotland

The day when the snow did not stop

Dumfries Library Image copyright Dumfries and Galloway Libraries

Twenty years ago Dumfries and Galloway experienced its deepest February snowfall on record.

Whenever I travel abroad, I feel duty-bound to dispel a few myths and preconceptions about my homeland.

Over the years, one of the most common - especially among those from more tropical climes - is that of a snow-smothered Scotland.

"That's the Highlands," I will generally say. "Down in the south, it is mostly rain."

In a lifetime spent in Dumfries and Galloway, that has usually been the case.

But, on one day exactly 20 years ago, I was proved wrong in quite dramatic fashion.

The snows started steadily on the morning of Monday 5 February 1996.

"It'll no lie," we said confidently. "It'll all be melted by the morning."

Image copyright Dumfries and Galloway Libraries

History had shown us to be correct in those statements but this time the snow just kept coming and quickly settled across much of the region.

At my place of work at the time, on the local newspaper in Dumfries, it gradually dawned on us that things might be a little different this time around.

Those living furthest from the town were allowed to escape earliest but my own home was barely a mile from the office.

But even that short distance proved one of the trickiest journeys I can ever recall. I abandoned my car at the end of the road, unable to make progress through a wall of snow.

Image copyright Dumfries and Galloway Libraries

By afternoon, road travel was impossible in much of the region and even when snow ploughs could clear a route it quickly became blocked by abandoned vehicles.

There was a first report of a bus carrying 40 passengers getting stuck in the snow and emergency rest centres were opened.

At their peak, they accommodated about 2,500 people - many of them passing through the region on the A74(M).

The snowfalls were the first real test of the Dumfries and Galloway's Major Emergency Scheme.

Image copyright Dumfries and Galloway Libraries

A council report on the events of the time said the region was "effectively cut off from the outside world".

At the height of the problems 12,000 properties, including some of the emergency centres themselves, were without power.

The Met Office said the 50cm (20in) recorded at its Eskdalemuir observatory was the deepest level it had ever recorded in February.

Image copyright Dumfries and Galloway Libraries

It is small fry, of course, compared with some of the major falls seen elsewhere.

Nonetheless, it caused significant disruption and eventually, the army was called in to help get to the most vulnerable people and start with clean-up operations.

It gave the region an eerily quiet air for a couple of days as most people had to give up on cars and resort to travelling on foot.

Image copyright Dumfries and Galloway Libraries

Trudging through the snow - particularly on the first day after the falls - took particular effort with significant drifts in many places.

Yet there was a certain camaraderie among those who did venture out.

Complete strangers stopped you to talk about the weather conditions - so unusual for this sheltered corner of Scotland.

Image copyright Dumfries and Galloway Libraries

There were fears, in the immediate aftermath, of further blizzards but they were fortunately blown further north and the feared impact of the thaw was mitigated by it being much slower than anticipated.

As a council report put it: "Slowly the region got back to normal after five days of severe disruption."

And I had to revise my version of how little snow we saw in Dumfries and Galloway.

Image copyright Dumfries and Galloway Libraries
Image copyright Dumfries and Galloway Libraries

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