1963

1963 will be immortalised as one of the greatest of all weather years for the coldest (best winter) this century. It is estimated that a winter this severe has a 250 year return rate. This is the only time this century that there were two consecutive months with temperatures averaging beneath zero; the last time this happened was 1878-79, and before this, in the "Little Ice Age", with the even more severe winter of 1740. Although not as snowy as the winter of 1947, 1962-63 was the coldest winter on record since 1739-1740: The winter CET was an incredible -0.3C. There was snow cover across lowland Britain from December 26th (1962) to March 4th (67 consecutive days), and many places had an air frost every night from 22 December to 4 March, apart from a respite on 28 January. It was a very cold year overall - at 8.47C, the coldest year of the century. The severe winter was caused by the great Siberian anticyclone moving west and blocking any warmer weather from coming in; this movement was ultimately caused by disruptions to the jet stream caused by abnormally warm weather in the Pacific around Hawaii.


January. The coldest month this century (-2.1C CET), the fifth coldest month ever, and part of the Big Freeze. Indeed, this was the coldest month since 1814. There was not a single westerly or southwesterly day in sight: there were 20 easterly days (with the rest calm or northerly). Much of England and Wales was snow-covered throughout. A notable snowstorm occurred on the 3-4th in the Southwest and Welsh Borders, with drifts up to 5 m deep, and 10-20 cm of fresh level snow in places; the snow was accompanied by a strong wind. The easterly winds lessened for a while in the second week, and there were some very low temperatures. The minimum was -19.4C at Achany (Sutherland) on the 11th. Shawbury had a maximum of -7C on the 12th. -16C was recorded at Gatwick and Eskdalemuir on the 13th, with freezing fog. It was slightly less cold midmonth, as winds turned slightly more northerly; however, many places still managed to stay beneath freezing from the 14-15th. Winds turned easterly again on the 17th for the most severe week of the winter. There was a minimum of -22.2C at Braemar on the 18th: this was the lowest minimum of the winter. There was another notable blizzard on the 19-20th, particularly affecting the southeast, with widespread maxima of -5C in the south. There was freezing rain in places on the 20th. In this spell, the highest hourly mean wind speed records were set (99 mph, at Great Dun Fell, Cumbria, on the 15th, and Lowther Hill, Scotland, on the 20th). The lowest minimum reported in England was -20.6C at Hereford on the 23rd; also -20.6C at Stanstead Abbotts (Herts.), early on the 23rd, and then a maximum of only -8C at Ross-on-Wye the next day. There was a snowdrift 25' deep on Dartmoor on the 21st. There was much freezing fog on the 24th. For the first time since 1947, there was pack ice on large estuaries such as the Solent, Mersey, and Humber. Many places in the SE stayed beneath freezing from the 16-25th. At Eastbourne the sea was reported as frozen to an extent of 100' offshore for a length of 2 miles. The weather turned less cold on the 26th, with some places having the first frost-free night of the month. Pressure of 1048 mbar in Scotland on the 27th. Winter as a whole was the worst since 1739-40. One consequence of the prevailing easterlies was that some sheltered westerly locations were very sunny: St Mawgan (Cornwall) reached 114.4 hours (a record). Also some westerly spots were extremely dry. See also December 1962 and February 1963. It will be no surprise that hence I rate this month as the most interesting January of the century.

February. Very cold, and part of the Big Freeze (-0.7C CET). We have not otherwise had two consecutive months beneath freezing in the twentieth century. The cold continued into March. Again, the prevailing easterlies gave some high sunshine totals in the west (e.g. 135 hours at Sellafield). Much of the country lay covered in snow all month. The month began with cold NNE winds, giving more light snow across the south. There were some very low temperatures in some coastal regions on the 4th and 5th: -17.8C at Coltishall (Norfolk) early on the 5th. There was a phenomenal snowstorm on the 6-7th affected mainly the west (the SW, Wales, Northern Ireland), and gave 1.5 m of lying snow at Tredegar (Monmouthshire; quoted at the time as "5 1/2 feet"). This is the record snow depth for an urban area of the UK. There were some slight thaws mid month: there was an appreciable thaw on the 9th, as winds turned briefly to the south; and some places in the south had a thaw of 4 hours on Valentine's Day, as the temperatures struggled up to 1C, before it started snowing again.

March. The end of the Big Freeze. It ended gently, without widespread flooding, owing to a gentle thaw in sunshine during the first few days of the month. It still reached -16C at Braemar on the 2nd. Many places in lowland Britain lost their snow cover on March 4th - for the first time since December 26th. By the 6th it reached 17C in London. On the 2nd Cape Wrath recorded a humidity reading of only 6%.

April. Following the famous winter, snow lay in some places until April 22. Overall, though, it was slightly milder than usual.

May. Slightly cooler than average.

June. Warm, thundery start. A violent thunderstorm in London on the 7th. 57mm of rain in 35 minutes at Kensington Palace; 62mm in two hours at Mill Hill. Flooding at Victoria and Paddington stations. 150 mm of rain fell in 3 hours in parts of Norfolk on the 6th. Flooding in the Wadebridge area.

July. Mostly cool and dry, but warm and sunny towards the month's end.

August. Cool (14.3C CET) and unsettled, with frequent thunderstorms. After some heavy rain on the 16th and 17th the winds turned northerly: East Anglia only reached 12C on the 18th. The last in a run of six successive poor early August bank holidays.

September. Mainly dull and wet.

October. Generally dry and cloudy with few night frosts. 22C was recorded in London on the 12th.

November.Quite mild, and very wet.

December. Extremely dry.