1979 was marked by one of the last prolonged cold and snowy winters we've had. Although it was a severe winter (counting winter as December 1978 - February 1979), it was nowhere near as bad as 1947 and 1963. It was, however, as a whole the most severe winter since 1963, and there hasn't been one as bad since. It was the fifth most severe winter of the century (CET 1.6C). There were only 20 westerly-type days in the winter. I remember the ducks in Cambridge having some difficulty with the ponds. The occasional mild spell caused thawing and flooding, with the thaw water then refreezing. It was the wettest spring on record.
January. A very cold (-0.4C CET) and snowy month. The last really cold January (average beneath freezing). Much of the south started the month snowbound after the blizzard of December 30-31st. Stithians (Cornwall) could only manage a maximum of -4 on the 1st, after widespread severe frosts; there was even a minimum of -16C in Cornwall on the 1st, the county record for Cornwall. There were some very low maxima were widespread on the 1st, with places as far apart as Exeter and East Anglia unable to go much above -5C. For much of the month there were severe frosts and heavy snowfalls. The record low for Northern Ireland (before December 2010) was set at -17.5C at Magherally (Co. Down) on the 1st. There was heavy snowfall in the northwest and Midlands on the 2nd; a maximum of -11.5. at Burton-on-Trent on the 3rd, in freezing fog, following a minimum of -16C the night before. There was a blizzard on the Channel Islands on the 4th; Torcross (Devon) hit and damaged by very large waves that night. Dense, cold, freezing fog midmonth. It was -24.6C at Carnwath (Strathclyde) on the 13th (possibly 18th) - this was the lowest temperature in the UK in the 70s. There was then a maximum of only -7C at Abbotsinch.On the 14th the diurnal range at Lagganlia (near Aviemore) was a record 30.1º (from -23.5 to +6.6). There was another severe snowfall on the 23rd in southern England; six inches of snow, followed by freezing rain in London. Even the Scillies had three days of laying snow. Oh for another month like it.
February. There were alternating snowy and mild spells in the south. There was much snow on the 12th as fronts moved northwards into the cold block: there was 15 cm of snow by the evening in the south Pennines. Blizzards. A storm surge hit Portland Bill on the 13th, cutting off the Bill for several hours, and giant waves carrying cars from the seafront car park. The most severe weather of the whole winter struck between the 14-16th. On the 14th heavy snow and cold northeasterlies to easterlies gave blizzards in the east. At midday in Tynemouth the temperature was -3C with a wind of 50 mph. Cold, snow, wind; enormous snow drifts, low visibilities: whiteout! What fun. The 15th was particularly cold and snowy: large difts in the east, with many places cut off, particularly in Lincolnshire. Many parts of the southeast remained below freezing from the 14-20th. Many places in the east, southeast, and Midlands were cut off for several days, with power cuts (which is what I hate most about snow and wind). A cold month overall, although not extraordinarily so (1.2C CET).
March. A stormy, wet month, with some heavy snow in the Midlands and North midmonth. The NE was particularly badly affected in the third week. Snowstorms cut off Newcastle: five days of snow gave 46 cm of cover. 175 mm of rain recorded in the first week at Fort William: three times the monthly avrage!
April. The first week was cold, with some snow. In the second week it warmed up as winds moved round to the south. On Easter Sunday (15th) the temperature reached 23C in London; two days later it only reached 7C in parts of the southeast.
May. A cool, very wet month overall, with frequent northerly winds. Rainfall over England and Wales averaged 119 mm. There was a maximum of only 4C on the 1st in the Midlands. Then there was a low of -7.0 C on the 4th, at Eskdalemuir. There were some impressive snow showers at the start of the month: nearly a foot on Dartmoor and parts of Wales. However, 28C was reached in London on the 14th.
June. Very slightly cooler than average. There were some sevre thunderstorms in the first half. On the 13th, a thunderstorm resulted in flash flooding at Skipton. On the whole though quite a dry month in England.
July. About average temperatures overall. A dry month, and some places on the south coast recording no rain until the 28th. There were storms on the 28th and 29th and a 6 year old girl was killed after being struck by Lightning on Skegness Beach on the 29th.
August.A cool, changeable month; indeed, at 14.9C CET, the coolest August of the 70s. The month was most memorable for the Fastnet Storm during the Fastnet Yacht Race. A gale occurred on the 13-14th, as yachts were rounding the Fastnet rock. Hundreds of yachts were lost, with the loss of 15 lives. Wind gusts to Force 12. 58 mph recorded in London, 85mph at Hartland Point, north Devon. Land fatalities too. The storm resulted from a depression that started off the week looking like a harmless little low... Also on the 14th, a rainbow was seen for 3 hours over North Wales, which until 1994 was a record.
September. About average temperature overall. A minimum of -6.1C recorded at Dalwhinnie on the 15th. It was a sunny and dry month in Central and Northern England and central Scotland. 167 hours of sunshine and 19 mm all month was recorded at Weston Park, Sheffield, and 176 hours of sunshine at St Andrews.
October. Quite mild overall. It was unsettled but with frequent southerly winds. 90 mm of rain fell at Dyce on the 4th. There was a minimum of 17C at Manchester on the 9th.
November. Mild and unsettled for the first ten days, but then colder midmonth with some snow and severe frosts. It was -12C at West Linton in the Borders early on the 14th. There was a striking purple glow at sunset on the 26th visible over much of the southeast and east as a result of a dust cloud originating in the Sahara carried north by southerly winds. In Spain and France the dust gave some very red sunsets, but in the south and east of England it interacted with two layers of cloud (altocumulus and a fragmented, thin, lower stratus level) to give a brilliant and weird purple colour. It later rain led to substantial dustfalls on the 29th.
December. Extremely wet. Flooding in the south; at Maidstone the River Medway rose 22'; and South Wales following heavy rain at the end of the month. Flooding on Dartmoor; 223mm of rain fell in two days. A 4' swell of water rushed down the Stour valley towards Christchurch (Dorset) on the 29th. Also very windy: Edinburgh recorded 110mph on the 4th, and the highest speed gust at low level in England, 118 mph, was recored at Gwennap Head in Cornwall on the 15th.. Extremely mild first half.