Let it Snow
First published: January 2012
Author: Dave Cook, Priories Historical Society

As we’re now into the coldest depths of winter I thought I’d contribute to the chilly feeling of the season with a look back to some of the more cooler parts of our areas history.

There have been many ice ages which have moulded and shaped our countryside into the shape we are familiar with today.  Glacial melting caused ice floes and steams of sediment gouged out valleys and hillsides. The first sign of human habitation we have for our area during the long warming up process after the last ice age are the inhabitants of Creswell Crags who used the caves for seasonal for hunting bases during summer months around 13,000 years ago.

Unfortunately the lack of historical writings means we have to jump a long way forward and have our first look at modern cold climate occasions.  In 1665 Nottinghamshire became embroiled in a deep freeze which managed to halt the progression of the bubonic plague.  The freezing frosts lasted between February and April killing livestock which were unable to graze on the frozen heathland.  This would have also killed many rats and stopped fleas from spreading the disease.  This also recorded the lowest weather depression recorded in the UK at 931 millibars.

The worst winter recorded in Britain occurred in 1683 during the mini-ice age. Yet again snow and bad ground frosts (up to a depth of 27 inches) stopped every day life. After a quick thaw ice floes destroyed both Newark and Nottingham bridges across the Trent.  The frost lasted for 13 weeks around Doncaster and was cold enough for the sea to freeze with temperatures as low as -24c recorded in
early January. During the next 16 years six of the worst winters on record occurred.
During World War II there was a ban on reporting weather conditions around the country to stop the risk of invasion from the Nazi’s.  During January 1940 there was severe snow and the freezing temperatures were only surpassed by 1963.  Sheffield witnessed over 4 feet of snow.  Heavy snowdrifts occurred. 1944 saw further heavy snowfalls in late February snowdrifts. In the Mansfield and Nottingham areas up to thirty centimetres of snow fell.  

1947 is probably the longest winter in our lifetime.  Snow fell everyday in the UK between 22nd January and 17th March and stayed on the ground for many weeks afterwards. Nottingham experienced 320 hours of frost, 602 hours of temperatures below 0c and a staggering 38 days of snow on the ground.  At the end of this there was widespread flooding as the snow melted but couldn’t escape because of the frozen ground; Worksop was badly hit with similar depths to the 2007 floods.  During February there was a lack of visible sun for 22 days noted in Nottingham. 

Occasionally during late spring, snow is still liable to fall on our country giving a strange combination of early flowers and buds with a wintery flavour.  One of the best known of these events happened on 17th May 1955 when it snowed for several hours across the country bringing 2-4 inches in places, this mixed with gales meaning drifts were commonplace. It also snowed in many places on 2nd June 1975 but on lower ground this appeared as hail or rain. Snow also fell in Sheffield on 1st May 1979.

The temperatures during the 1962-63 winter were extremely cold falling to -9c (15f) at times making it the coldest winter of the 20th century with snow on the ground for 67 consecutive days.  During one night in 1963 the temperature fell to -15c (4f) making parts of the river Trent freeze.  This was the first time the Trent had frozen since January 1895.  After the thaw the Trent burst its banks at Gainsborough leading to widespread flooding. 
I always remember having a brilliant time as a child playing in the snow, the start of April 1981 brought high temperatures but between the 23rd and 26th snowstorms blew across the country and near zero temperatures were recorded in Nottingham and Sheffield followed by gales and thunderstorms.  Farmers lost newborn lambs which weren’t able to cope in the deep snow drifts and fruit blossom was also wiped out. That winter was one of the few White Christmases in recent history with snow covering the ground for 21 days during December.  In early January 1982 the temperature rose enough to start melting the snow and this combined with heavy rain leading to serious flooding along the Trent valley. The same week also saw 36 hours of heavy snow and gales producing blizzards and snow drifts right across the Midlands.
There were two snow events in 2010 which brought the country to a standstill, the first in January and the second will be remembered for a long time.  At the end of the November a Baltic blast brought over a foot of snow in less than 24 hours.  The snow was relentless for several days bringing the A57 between Todwick and Anston to a standstill with scores of lorries and cars stuck and their occupants were looked after by the local residents.  Eventually they were rescued by the mountain rescue teams from Woodhead. Temperatures
reached -17c in some areas of Yorkshire and daytime temperatures didn't fare much better. On December 16th an Arctic high brought further snow and once again temperatures were reduced into sub zero degrees for the next few days. On the night of the 17th there was light snow in our area but due to the temperatures being around -10c this mixed with a light frost and instantly froze to the roads and pavements.

It does feel strange to write about history as little as a year ago but even during these times when there is talk of our climate warming. It is worthy to remember how close we are to the Arctic Circle and how fortunate we are to have the gulfstream and jet stream continually bringing warm temperatures to our shores; after all we are on the same latitude as Siberia and New York.  There are years where snow has almost not occurred the most recent periods being 1895 to 1899, 1920-1923, 1970 to 1976, 1991 to 1993, 1997-2000 and 2006-2009, so you can never tell what Mother Nature has in store.