Although it may not have felt it at certain times, this winter has been relatively mild.
However, that certainly wasn’t the case in 1963, when arguably the most devastating weather event to hit modern Britain struck, causing rivers, lakes and even the sea to freeze over.
The first few weeks of December 1962 had been changeable and stormy, but then on December 22, high pressure moved to the northeast of the UK, and once this weather pattern had set in, it did not change most of the winter.
Then, a blizzard hit Wales and the southwest of England on December 29 and 30, causing snowdrifts up to six metres deep.
Widespread disruption followed as many roads and railways were blocked, telephone lines brought down, and some villages were left cut off for days.
The snow was so deep farmers couldn’t get to their livestock, and many animals starved to death.
This snow set the scene for the next two months, as much of England remained covered every day until early March 1963.
Blizzards, snowdrifts and blocks of ice were commonplace and in Braemar, Scotland, the temperature plummeted to -22.2°C on January 18 – the coldest since 1740.
This 90-minute film tells the extraordinary story of that winter and examines how such extreme weather was possible, while comparing it with other severe events.
We hear heroic stories of daring helicopter rescues and learn about the devastating Crewe train crash caused by frozen points that claimed 18 lives. We discover how the ‘Big Freeze’ had a disastrous effect on British wildlife, wiping out half of our bird population, and how all major sporting events were cancelled for almost three months, forcing resourceful Brits to create their own winter sports.
We also get first-hand accounts of the ‘Big Freeze’ from those who remember it.
Ab Fab actress Joanna Lumley vividly recalls being snowed in at her boarding school in Kent and how pupils managed to keep warm.
Record producer Pete Waterman gives colourful descriptions of the catastrophe on the railways and what life was like for working class Brits in the early 1960s.
Plus, journalist John Craven details the devastating effects on livestock and wildlife, and TV presenter Gloria Hunniford recalls being snowbound with her baby daughter and describes the plight of many farmers who lost their livelihoods.
We also hear from weatherman John Kettley, who outlines what caused these catastrophic conditions — a perfect storm of anticyclones in Scandinavia drawing down freezing air from Russia.
It’s March next week, which marks the start of meteorological spring.
However, before you think that this particular winter is done and dusted, cast your mind back almost four years to the day when Anticyclone Hartmut and Storm Emma arrived on our shores.
Dubbed the ‘Beast from the East’, it brought a severe cold wave to Great Britain and Ireland.
And although it was nothing compared to the Big Freeze of 1963, you still may want to keep the woolly hats, gloves and snow shovels handy for just a few more weeks yet.
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