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Pictures: some of the warmest and coldest Christmases on record


It is without doubt that winters are milder than they were decades ago, with snow and ice becoming less and less, writes Ian Thomas.

Snow cover was more frequent back in the 1950s and 1960s and mild winters less common. Indeed, taking the Christmas period, we have had just about a dozen cold Christmases, the rest being average to very mild. So let’s take a trip back through the last 60 or so years and look at some notable Christmas weather from snow to stormy to warmth.

Hopton RoadCam in the snowDecenber 18th 2010 | Pictures: some of the warmest and coldest Christmases on record
Cam, December 18th, 2010. Picture: Ian Thomas.

Snow on Christmas Day:  This is indeed a rarity and only six have had snow on the ground or falling on the day. Christmas day 1956 was our whitest with snow falling widely across southern England all day. It was lying between three to six inches deep by dusk and some drifting over the hills around the county. A truly magical Christmas snowstorm.

We then had to wait until 1970 for snow on the day, but that fell Christmas Eve with just a dusting. The last time it snowed on Christmas day itself was 2004, but only just. That Saturday evening, a trough moved southward late in the evening with about half an inch on the ground by midnight. You may remember Christmas 2010 when a large swathe of Great Britain saw snow on the ground from previous falls. Lying up to three inches deep in Gloucestershire. Jill and I were at Sidmouth, Devon that year and snow covered the resort up to five inches deep.

Sidmouth in the snowChristmas Day 2010 | Pictures: some of the warmest and coldest Christmases on record
Sidmouth in the snow, Christmas Day 2010. Picture: Ian Thomas.

Snow on Boxing Day: There was a notable snowfall on Boxing Day 1964 and the higher parts such as Birdlip saw 5inches of the white stuff over the weekend, as Boxing Day was a Saturday. Fast forward to Boxing Day 1970 and a spell of heavy snow early on the day before daylight, amounting to two to four inches deep. This lasted into the new year 1971 before melting away.

The two snowiest Christmas periods were in 1978-79 and of course 1962-63. Dealing with the first, snow fell prior to Christmas 1978, but mild air worked in for the two days and with it came heavy rain and flooding. However, the cold air returned on the 29th and a retracting cold front brought four to five inches of driving powdery snow on the evening of Saturday December 30th and overnight on the Sunday. Skies then cleared and the mercury dropped to -13C on the morning of New Year’s Day 1979, the coldest start to any year of the 20th century. This heralding the coldest and snowiest winter for 16 years. (1962-63).

20220113 093839 01 | Pictures: some of the warmest and coldest Christmases on record
Brenda Hitchins outside her home in the snow of January 1982.

And now the big one! December 21st, 1962, saw a change from Atlantic air, as winds turned into the east bringing Polar continental air to Britain. A very cold (-8C) Christmas morning but sunny…. Early Boxing Day, down to -9C at Cam, before a cold front moved south and the infamous Boxing Day snowfall began. Four to six inches deep by midnight, and then a full-on blizzard on Saturday 29th to Sunday 30th with drifts up to 10 feet or more on the tops. Happy new year 1963, and a further four to six inches on the 3rd. By now the Christmas magic was wearing off and we faced a further two months of snow cover in the harshest winter in more than 200 years.

Brian Kelsey my late uncle Old London road Wotton..January 1963.. | Pictures: some of the warmest and coldest Christmases on record
Brian Kelsey by a snowdrift in January 1963.

Freezing rain: Many will remember this event as a nightmare for travelling around. Again, on a Saturday, December 30th, 1995, this time around, freezing rain coated just about every surface imaginable that morning. Driving, yet alone walking was impossible for the rest of the day. There were scores of road accidents and people falling over. Thankfully it was on the weekend and lasted just a day or so.

Storm force winds: Christmas Day 1990 saw an active line squall (a cold front on the back edge of a low-pressure system) crossed around 11am that morning, and wind speeds increased to over 80mph for around 10-15 minutes as the front passed through. It was strong enough to damage the roof on the residential home at Dryleaze, Wotton-under-Edge. The fire service attended from Wotton and Dursley stations to make it all safe. Dursley firemen had to turn back by Cotswold Edge Golf Club because a tree had blown down and go back through the town and onward via North Nibley.

Christmas warmth and cold: The coldest Christmases were 1962 and 2010. Temperatures down to between -8C and -10C. Indeed, December 2010 was the coldest December since 1890! 1962 saw the start of the coldest winter since 1739-40… 223 years!!!

Fast forward five years and December 2015, was truly our warmest on record. A stormy and wet month throughout, and southerly air saw Christmas day reach 14C  and Boxing Day even higher at 14.3C (58F) more like May than December as records were broken across Great Britain.

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