1962

1962 was a cold year. There were several notable gales through out the year, some very cold weather in January, the coldest March of the century, a cool summer (the temperature only reached 27.8C on one day.), and of course the start of the Big Freeze (the coldest - but not the snowiest, see 1947 - winter of the twentieth century). The highest temperature in London that year was 25, while the seaside resort of Shanklin (Isle of Wight) couldn't beat 21C through the whole summer, as unusually did some parts of Devon and Cornwall. The hottest temperature of the year was in September, and it was the lowest annual maximum of the century. It was also the coldest spring of the century (6.93C CET average).


January. A very wet month, particularly in west Scotland. It had a very cold start, with low maxima in the Midlands: -1 C max at Cardington. The year's lowest temperature was -21.1C Corwen (Clwyd) on the 2nd. London recorded its lowest ever minimum (under standard conditions), with -16.1C at Northolt on the 1st. It turned milder, sunnier, but with storms from the 7th. Strong NW gales affected the Midlands on the 11th; a gust of 104 mph as recorded at Hartland Point, north Devon. The month became more settled from the 25th. As is common with very wet winter months, it was also sunny in the south, particularly London and the Midlands.

February. Mostly mild, but with some severe storms. Sunny in the SE. There were gales on the 11-12th. Then a severe westerly gale damaged Sheffield on the 16-17th; two-thirds of the houses in the city were reported as suffering some damage, and three people were killed. 98 houses had to be demolished. Gusts of over 80 kn were claimed, with a maximum gust of 96 mph reported. This is an example of a "lee wave" wind, where wind is increased by hills (here the Pennines): a strong westerly air flow is deflected upwards by the hills until it reaches a warm layer where it can ascend no further; it is then reflected downwards. The air becomes stratified because turbulence is suppressed, and standing waves form. The wind at Sheffield averages more than 70 mph between 6 and 7 am; at Manchester, west of the Pennines, the average was only 39 mph. In the same gale a gust of 119 mph was reported at at Lowther Hill (Lanarkshire) and 177 mph at Saxa Vord (Shetland). At Southwold the sea reached the high-water mark at low tide; fortunately the storm surge and high tide did not coincide. Things were worse however in Europe, where 340 people drowned in the Hamburg area. There was a significant snowfall in London on the 26th in a short cold snap. There were gales on the 27th in the SE.

March. The coldest of the century. At least it was however often dry and sunny. In the SE it was colder than any of the winter months preceding it. There were some heavy snowfalls particularly in the first week, and there was snow somewhere in the UK on most days. It was anticyclonic with predominately northerly winds until the 25th, when it became more changeable and milder. A cold front brought heavy snow to the north on the 1st; on the 2nd the snow depth was 15:: at Haydon Bridge; the same front brought heavy snow to the south on the 3rd.

April. Some sharp early frosts, but as spring that year was so late (following the cold March) these caused little frost damage. 18C wasn't reached anywhere until the 22nd.

May. Quite cold overall. Dull and cool in the SE, but sunnier in the NW. The first few days were quite warm, but then it turned cold after thundery showers on the 10th. There was a gust of 100 mph at Benbecula (Outer Hebrides) on the 16th during an exceptional late gale. The end of the month saw the start of a series of 11 consecutive air frosts at Santon Downham (Norfolk), between 29 May and 8 June.

June. The first week was sunny; it was cool at first, with some sharp frosts. It was 0C at Hurn on the 2nd. Then the record low of -5.6 was equalled at Santon Downham (Norfolk) on the 1st and 3rd - part of a sequence of 11 consecutive air frosts that started on 29 May. It became warmer in the second week, with 27C at Wakefield on the 8th. There were some wide daily temperature ranges: on 8th June 1962 the minimum at Santon Downham was -2.8C (27F), and the maximum was 25.6C (78F), a range of 28.4C (51F). Overall it was the sunniest June for 5 years at Kew. It was a very dry month overall, with less than a quarter of inch of rain all month from Yorkshire to London.

July. The hottest temperature reading of the year: 27.8 at Writtle (Essex) on the 3rd. This is the lowest yearly maximum of the twentieth century (equal with 1920). It was a changeable month, with beneath average sunshine and rainfall, although heavy rain fell in the SE on the 26th.

August. Northerly winds and frequent thunderstorms. I think these might form my earliest weather memory. East Anglia only reached 12C on the 7th.

September. The hottest temperature reading of the year: 27.8 at Writtle (Essex) on the 3rd. This is the lowest yearly maximum of the twentieth century.

October. A dry and sunny month, although more unsettled from the 24th. Also this month, the Met Office switched officially from C to F. Last time I checked the Daily Telegraph was still catching up.

November. Some snow and frost provided a taste of the winter ahead. It was eventually cold, dull, and quite dry after a wild, wet start. Hailstones 5 cm in diameter fell at Culrose on the 2nd. A northerly outbreak began on the 12th, with heavy snow showers on the 19th. Snow fell as far south as Yorkshire. It became anticyclonic soon after.

December. Cold (1.8C CET), and generally quite sunny, although smog early in the month (starting on the 4th) probably killed several hundred people in London. This was the last of the great London smogs before the Clean Air Acts took effect. There was persistent freezing fog elsewhere in the country, around the 10th, followed by a wintry outbreak, with some snow across the country on the 12th and 13th. Midmonth there was rain and some severe gales as the weather became very mild. But the month is most notable as the start of the Great Freeze, one of the two greatest prolonged weather events of this century by my reckoning (the other being the summer of 1976). The pressure started to rise on Saturday 21st; there was widespread dense fog, with many football matches postponed. Cold air started to set in on December 22nd as an anticyclone formed over northern Scandinavia, bringing very cold continental air west from Russia. On the 23rd the pressure in the Scandinavian high reached 1050 mbar. There were a few days that were cold but sunny in the daytime, and with severe frost at night. Over Christmas the Scandinavian anticyclone collapsed and a new one formed over Iceland, bringing northerly winds down across the country from Greenland. The front separating the cold Arctic air from the north met the even colder Continental air originating from Russia, giving a significant snowfall as it moved south across the country. It started snowing in the far north on Christmas Eve, and the cold front moved slowly south. Hence although Christmas Day was cold but sunny in the south, with maxima ranging from -4C to 0C, there was snowfall in the north: Glasgow had a White Christmas. The snow reached Lancashire at about midnight on Christmas night, and continued to move south across most of England during Boxing Day, reaching the Midlands around midday and finally reaching London and the south around midnight. I remember vividly waking up to snow and frost the next day in Southampton (27th). After this, a block was then formed, and cold air established. Occasionally mild air approached the south west, but the great winter was set until to the end of February 1963. Over much of the country snow lay from December 26th until March 2 (67 consecutive days). 2-4" of snow fell in the north, but snow fell for longer (two days) south of the Thames, leaving up to 18". The second major snowfall of the end of the month was on the 29-30th, and was accompanied by bitter, gale-force easterly winds. By the end of the month there were snow drifts of 8' in Kent and 15' in the west. This is the first major weather event I remember (apart from some frightening - to me - thunderstorms). I remember making a snowman, and the thick frost coating the windows. Weather can be dangerous though - cold kills, directly and indirectly. Frozen railway points were responsible in part for the Coppenhall Junction disaster near Crewe, where two trains colided, killing 18 passengers and injuring at least 34.