Category Archives: Information about the 2010 cold snap

December 2010 was coldest since 1890


The Met Office has just announced that December 2010 was the coldest December since 1890 based on the Central England Temperature (CET) dataset which started in 1659, the longest such set of figures in the world. The month was also the coldest individual calendar month since February 1986, with temperatures dropping as low as -21.1C in Altnaharra in Sutherland, Scotland. There were 10 nights in December 2010 when the temperature fell below -18C somewhere in the UK. Northern Ireland also saw its lowest ever recorded temperature -18C at Castlederg, County Tyrone on 20th December.

Update from the BBC Met blog: Met Office provisional figures show that December 2010 with a mean CET temperature of -0.7C was the second coldest since records began in 1659, beaten only by December 1890 which had a mean of -0.8C.

2010 was also the coldest year since 1986.

According to the Met Office blog

“Remarkably, at a time when global warming remains a very high profile issue around the world, the 2010 UK CET figure is around the levels recorded from the years 1659 to 1758 – and well below the median figure for the whole series which runs from 1659 to 2009. For the UK at least, the climate in the last few years far from warming, has been very definitely cooling. This could be yet more anecdotal evidence that the prolonged solar minima which started around 2007 continues to influence the UK’s climate.

Above photo of Armathwaite in the Lake District by Rich Fraser on Flickr.

Are severe winters becoming the norm in Britain?


Hampstead Heath, December 2010 by Marcus Fallon

It’s the third hard winter in a row, following two decades of relatively mild weather. Should the government invest in new technology to reduce the impact of severe winters? How many snow ploughs should the country have?

Philip Eden, Vice President of the Royal Meteorological Society, explains that cold winters in Britain are caused by a weak jet stream and often come in batches.  If the jet stream meanders southwards, Spain gets the Atlantic depressions instead, leaving the UK exposed to winds from the north, which bring the snow and low temperatures. Long term records show that clusters of cold winters occur with relative frequency: looking back at the last 50 years, 1962-65, 1968-70, 1978-82, 1985-87, and, to a lesser extent, 1995-97.

His verdict: no need to panic and stock up on the snow ploughs just yet.

Coldest place in Britain’s second Big Freeze of 2010


The prolonged cold spell affecting the UK since the end of November reached a new low on the night of December 18, when the market town of Pershore in Worcestershire, on the banks of the River Avon, was at -19.5 degrees.

The photograph of Hampstead Heath was taken on December 18 by Marcus Fallon.

Lowest ever temperature recorded in Northern Ireland

The lowest ever temperature was recorded in Northern Ireland this week, dropping to -18C at Castlederg, County Tyrone on 20th December 2010. The previous record for the country was -17.5 °C  on  1 January 1979  in Magherally (County Down).

See also: Record lowest temperatures in the UK

Results of 2010 RSPB Garden Birdwatch

As expected, small birds struggled to survive the big freeze: long tailed tits, who had prospered over a succession of mild winters, dropped by 27% compared to last year, when they made the top ten for the first time.  The biggest decline was in goldcrest sightings – down by 75%.  Losses would have been worse without the tremendous response to calls for keeping bird tables well stocked.

Another effect of the hard winter was a movement of countryside birds into gardens in their search for food.  Sightings of redwings increased by 185%, fieldfares by 73% and song thrushes by 51%.  Yellowhammers and bullfinches were also more frequent garden visitors. Continue reading Results of 2010 RSPB Garden Birdwatch

Spring will be spectacular

The long, hard winter means that nature is just dying to get up and and do its thing: spring this year could well be the most spectacular we’ve seen for a long time. We’re all going to enjoy it too!

Up in the plane and ash trees, all London’s wildlife appeared hard at spring yesterday. Tail feathers were shaking along the Regent’s canal, the first buds were bursting on brambles and honeysuckle and carpets of crocuses were delighting crowds in the grand royal parks.

More from the Guardian

Photo of the 2010 Freeze

The famous image taken by Nasa’s Terra satellite on January 7th 2010 captured the impressive extent of Britain’s big freeze.  Charlie Brooker’s description is also memorable, beginning like this:

Oh, how it snowed. It snowed like a bitch. It snowed so hard you could be forgiven for thinking God had decided planet Earth was naught but an embarrassing celestial typo and was desperately trying to Tipp-Ex it out of existence.

Ice skating in the Fens

For the first time in many years, the freezing conditions have been perfect for ice skating, allowing the inhabitants of the Cambridgeshire Fens to revel in a centuries-old tradition. The Guardian

The Fens of East Anglia, with their meres and washes, networks of drainage ditches, slow-flowing rivers and easily flooded meadows, form an ideal skating terrain. Skates were introduced into Britain from Holland or France in the seventeenth century. It is not known when the first skating matches were held, but by the early nineteenth century they had become a feature of cold winters in the Fens. The golden age of fen skating was the second half of the nineteenth century, when thousands of people turned out to watch the top skaters. Wikipedia

Praise for feeding birds in winter

One of the Guardian’s editorials today is entitled In praise of… feeding birds in winter:

Feeding birds this month offers a rare chance to see redpolls, yellowhammers and tree sparrows among the robins, finches and tits that more often make up backyard populations. It will also keep them alive. Read

Unusual snow phenomenon in Frozen Britain

From a distance, they look like hay bales covered in snow. But close-up it becomes clear they are hollow.  A mystified Ron Trevett photographed them in a field near Yeovil, Somerset.  It occurred to him they might be some large-scale prank in the crop circle tradition but for the complete absence of footprints.  In fact, snow rolls are a natural phenomenon, but more associated with the prairies of North America than Britain.  Certain conditions are necessary for their formation: the right texture of snow, temperature and winds.  Strong winds peel off the top layer of snow when it becomes sticky and bowl the roll along until it’s too heavy.  The snow doughnuts, as they’re also known, look deceptively solid, as they can distintegrate in an instance.

Countryside birds moving into urban areas

The RSPB says countryside birds are increasingly moving into towns because the big freeze has meant food is harder to find. They include on their list bitterns! More as well as herons and woodcocks. More
According to latest figures from the BTO,  forty species have been turning to gardens for food with greater frequency during the current snowy weather, with particularly large increases in thrushes and buntings. Reed Buntings have increased by 134 per cent and Yellowhammers by 80 per cent. More

Guardian slideshow Birds spotted in the big freeze

See also Unusual birds in the garden

Good things about the cold snap

 por VickySings

Photo by VickySings on Flickr

Freezing temperatures aren’t all bad for British wildlife, perfectly adapted to long, cold winters, which until recently were the norm. Cold weather helps to “restore the balance of nature”:

  • Hibernating creatures (bats, butterflies, bumblebees etc) are less likely to emerge and then get killed off by a cold snap, as has happened in the past few mild winters
  • Birds are unlikely to start nesting too early (again, as happens in mild winters)
  • Flowers are less likely to emerge and then get killed off by late frosts
  • Viruses, parasites etc are killed off, which will benefit their hosts. (Again, mild winters tend to allow disease vectors to multiply)

In contrast mild winters such as those we’ve seen between 1986 and 2008 bring about:

  • Early emergence of flowers and insects
  • Early breeding of many birds (sometimes before Christmas).
  • ‘Summer visitors’ overwintering (eg chiffchaff)
  • A major fall in numbers of winter visitors (eg Bewick’s swan and white-fronted goose), as birds stay further east of the UK.

From the BBC’s Snow Watch

Snow Watch are also collecting wildlife stories from people from around the UK. Read them here.

I thought this post by John White was interesting:

We do have a visiting barn owl but have not seen or heard him for some weeks. We have had visiting redpolls and fieldfares taking all the holly berries. Interestingly there have been very few starlings and sparrows around, and a very plump pheasant is missing. I must admit that we do not encourage the larger birds i.e. rooks, crows, jackdaws and magpies, but they still come. It seems that the three squirrels that live in the holly tree have decided to keep warm in their dray, and have not put in an appearance for days. Badgers have taken to the compost for food. They were very active in the autumn feeding off of our fallen fruits and digging up the gardens for slugs etc. Swans and geese that frequent the reservoirs and canals seem to be staying put.

Sleeping in an igloo


David Munt from Potter’s Bar, Hertfordshire braved the Arctic weather and sub-zero temperatures to spend a night in an igloo in his garden. He decided to sleep in his creation after spending the previous day making the igloo from snow and ice, with help from the children on his street.