British weather in December
"A clear and bright sun on Christmas Day."
December is the start of winter proper. How I look forward to it. How I long for another winter like 1962-63 (I was five at the time): the Great Freeze. Or winter 1981-82: although it wasn't particularly cold overall, there were some extraordinary cold snaps. I remember the Cam froze over in Cambridge, and supposedly took the weight of a trolley full of shopping. Winter for me means snow, frozen ponds, frost on the window, crisp, cold, clear nights, frost on the grass, and long, dark nights. And of course, I always dream of a white Christmas. (They are, of course, rare: the chances of a white Christmas are about 1/10 in the south of England, and up to 1/4 in the north. For betting purposes, they are defined as "at least one flake of snow landing on the roof of the London weather centre on the 24 hours of December 25th - more stringent than most people would actually use.) Statistically, however, the most likely weather for Christmas Day, based on the twentieth century, is cold and sunny (18%).
At least from the winter solstice (around the 21st-23rd) things start to get better. On the winter solstice the sun is at its furthest south (overhead at the Tropic of Capricorn); hence it is the shortest day in the northern hemisphere, and the sun does not rise north of the Arctic Circle. Because of what is called "the equation of time", however, the solstice does not mean that on that day sunrise is latest and sunset earliest. (The equation of time results from a combination of the tilt of the earth's axis and its elliptical orbit.) Indeed, the time of earliest sunset is a few days before the winter solstice, and the latest sunrise a couple of weeks later. It is the rate of change of these two things that mean that the shortest day is in between (and closer to the latest sunrise.) Clear?
Air masses are particularly important in winter. Because the sun is above the horizon for such a short time, and at such a low angle, the origin of the air is more important than exposure to sunshine. Hence the highest temperatures accompany tropical air masses that may be completely overcast. Similarly, it is not unusual for the highest temperature in a 24 hour period to be at night, if that accompanies a change of airmass.
Traditionally, the middle of the month is supposed to be quiet and frosty, with a peak of quietness (in as much as one can have such a thing) on the 19th. The beginning and end, are cyclonic, with supposed storm peaks on the 9th and 28th, following a post-Christmas thaw. Supposedly. The 3rd-14th is Buchan's third warm spell, and this is supposed to be one of the more reliable ones.
All sayings that suggest that cold weather before Christmas (whether in November or December) mean a mild winter have no foundation in fact. December has been getting markedly warmer since 1970.
Although December is on average nowhere near as cold as January or February (because of a lag between the shortest day and its effect on airmasses, and because the surrounding sea is not yet at its coldest), the coldest night of the year at Kew and Greenwich in the period 1841-1864 tends to fall in the last week of December. December is the coldest month of the year about 20% of the time. These days it seems to be becoming more of an autumn month than a winter one. Only twice in the last hundred years - 1950 and 1981 - have wide areas of the country been snow covered for more than half the month.
Extremes for December in the 20th century
Highest December average overall = 8.1 (1934)
Lowest December average overall = 0.3 (1981)
Highest maximum = 18.3 (Achnashellac, Wester Ross, 2nd, 1948)
Lowest minimum = -27.2 (Altnaharra, Highlands, 30th, 1995)
Some extreme weather events in December in the twentieth century
1900 The century starts with a warm December: 7.2 C CET.
1902 A notable gale on the 12th. Winds then changed from cold easterlies to mild westerlies. The pressure fell in 956 mbar in NE Scotland on the 29th.
1903 Mild and dull.
1904 After the severe snow and cold at the end of November 1904, the weather turned mild.
1905 A dry month over much of England and Wales.
1906 An easterly wind set in on the 21st, but turned northerly on Christmas Eve. Low pressure brought heavy snow and widespread disruption to travel, with many places cut off. Powdery snow fell in the Highlands on the 25th. Severe blizzards swept across northern Scotland from the 26th-28th; a foot of snow fell on Wednesday 26th alone, with widespread drifting. A tornado was reported on the Moray Firth. A White Christmas across the country except for parts of the southwest coast. Eventually there was a foot of snow in Norfolk and two feet in Aberdeenshire; Aberdeen was cut off several days. At Swarraton (Hants.) a minimum of -16c was recorded. On Boxing Day morning virtually all of Britain was snow covered.
1907 A wet month with a mild Christmas.
1908 A very cold snowy end to the month. The maximum in the Midlands was only -5C on the 29th; the temperature then fell to -18 C the following night, with -18.3C at Liphook (Hants.) - the coldest night of the year.
1909 Wet and unsettled. Severe gales with a pressure of 948 mbar off the northeast of England on the 3rd.
1910 A very mild and wet first half. There were four days of continuous rain in parts of the south early in the month: for example, 170 mm of rain fell between the 4th and the 10th in parts of Devon. One and a half inches of rain fell at Nottingham on the 1st. There was a violent westerly gale in southern England on the 16th. The equal record highest maximum for Christmas Eve was set this month, with 15.6C at locations in North Wales.
1911 Unsettled, wet, and mild.
1912 Also unsettled, wet, and mild: a very westerly month. It was particularly wet in the west: 406 mm on Dartmoor, 598 mm at Borrowdale in the Lake District, and 756 mm at Loch Quoich (Invernesshire). There was a notable gale over Christmas, particularly affecting the Hampshire coast. There was flooding in Conwy. There was loss of life at sea.
1913 Generally mild and dry but dull. There were severe gales on the night of the 3rd, with a gust of 75 mph at Birmingham and 82 mph at Southport. Heavy snow fell in Yorkshire on the 5th. The end of the month was colder.
1914 One of the wettest Decembers of the century; in many places, the wettest. On 28th December, there was a violent gale around London with falls of rain, hail and snow; the wind was 50 mph at the Royal Greenwich Observatory. One man was killed.
1915 Very wet.
1916 Cold (1.9C CET). Indeed, this was the coldest December of the century until 1933. Part of a very cold winter (third equal coldest winter on record).
1917 Cold, dry and sunny.
1918 Very mild. It was generally wet except for SE England and N and E Scotland where it was drier than average.
1919 Mild, wet and dull, particularly in the east, with frequent gales. Manchester only recorded 7 hours of sunshine all month. It was the wettest month of the year.
1920 The highest and lowest (before 1981) December temperatures for Raunds (Northants) were both set this month, less than two weeks apart: -18.3C on the 13th and 14th, and 15.6C on the 26th. The reading of -18.3C was the coldest of the year for the whole country, and it is also noteworthy that the same location (Raunds) gave the highest maximum of the year. The month began windy and very mild, with 15C at Eye (Northants.) on the 3rd, with a SW gale with with wind speeds of 90 mph, with many lives lost at sea. This was followed by a week of high pressure to the north with fog. Easterlies set in on the 10th, with cold air and snow showers. A heavy and widespread snowstorm affected the south and east of the country on the 11th, with subzero temperatures giving "dry", powdery snow, and no winds: up to 20 cm widespread, and 35 cm at Clacton. Snow lay for ten days at Plymouth. Mild weather returned on the 18th. Christmas was exceptionally mild, with temperatures of 15-16C widespread from 24-27th and 29-31st - perhaps the mildest on record.
1921 Mild and unsettled, drier than average apart from the NW and Scotland. Across much of the south the temperature didn't fall beneath 10C on the night of the 18/19th.
1922 A mild month, and sunny in the east. There was severe flooding in South Wales, with 200mm early in the month. Generally it was dry, settled, and anticyclonic in England until the 18th, after which it was unsettled and stormy, with thunderstorms in the final week.
1923 After a mixed month it was a widespread White Christmas, with some snow in the north.
1924 On the 11th the country was divided into two: in the area from the east of Dorset to the Wash it was calm, cold, and foggy; to the west and north there was a stiff, mild SW wind. The maximum that day was 1C in London and Yarmouth, but but 10C in Scarborough and Llandudno - a striking front.
1925 Cold up to Christmas but with a mild second week. -17C at Braemar early on the 20th.
1926 The driest December of the twentieth century across England and Wales.
1927 An extremely easterly month, and quite cold (CET 2.1C). There was snowfall in the second week, and then some freezing rain. A mild interlude on the 21-22nd, but then cold NE affected all the country apart from the south on Christmas Eve. A deep depression off Cornwall fought with high pressure off Scotland; the Arctic air from the NE met the mild, damp air along the English Channel. This fed the low, and led to a severe snowfall; indeed, this was one of the most severe snowstorms of the century. On Christmas Day there was continual snowfall over the Midlands and Wales, but heavy rain with easterly gales in the south. As the temperature dropped on Christmas night, the rain in the south turned to heavy snow. The blizzard continued into Boxing Day. Snow lay a foot deep over much of the south, two feet of level snow in Kent, with drifts of up to 20' reported the next morning in the Chilterns, and 25' deep on Salisbury Plain. Much damage to trees, overhead wires, with many villages being cut off. There was flooding in the Northwest after Christmas.
1929 Wet and stormy. There was a severe gale on the 5th and 6th, with much loss of life on sea and on land.
1930 A quiet month, with a great deal of fog.
1931 A very dry month. The equal record highest maximum for Christmas Eve was set this month, with 15.6C at locations in Scotland.
1932 Very mild after the 12th.
1933 Very cold and frosty south of the Humber, but mild in the north. A dry month, often bright, with some frost, fog, and freezing fog. The maximum in freezing fog was only -5C at Manchester on the 6th. It was severe midmonth, with many rivers freezing around the 10th, and with wintry showers in the east. The maximum in freezing fog was only -5C at Manchester on the 6th.
1934 The warmest this century (8.1). At Falmouth the the lowest temperature was 5C; at Wick, the average was close to that of the typical May.
1935 Dense fog over parts of Scotland, particularly around 20-21st. There was a maximum of only -9C at Paisley.
1936 Very sunny, with average temperatures and rainfall. It was mild between the 17th and 21st with temperatures up to 15C.
1937 The month had a cold first half, with frequent frost, and 50 cm of lying snow in places. A 105 mm of rain fell at Newport (IOW) on the 7th. On the 11th there was eleven inches of snow at Durham. There was a minimum of -21.7C at Braemar on the 13th - the lowest reading of the year (and indeed of the 1930s).
1938 A very mild beginning and end, with notable snowy cold spell around Christmas. In the first half of the month temperatures around 10 and 13C were common, and the nights were largely frost-free. Although a change was forecast, the magnitude of the change was not. On the 17th, as high pressure built to the north of Scotland, cold air came in on easterlies. Consider these midday readings from Kent: on the 16th, 12C; 17th, 0C; 18th, -3C; 19th, -5, 20th, -6. Snow fell daily from the 18th to the 26th. The 20th was the coldest day. There was particularly heavy snowfall on the 20-22 December, resulting in a snowy Christmas: the best White Christmas of the century (along with 1981, where also more than half of the country had snow cover on Christmas Day). Over 30 cm fell in the east, and up to 60 cm in the west. There was skiing on the Chilterns. You can't beat easterly winds can you in winter, can you? The temperature remained freezing from the 18th to the 26th at Lympne (Kent), with a maximum of only -5.6C on the the 20th, and a maximum of -3 widespread across the country. -15.6C was recorded at Braemar on the 22nd. The snow started on the 19th in the southeast, and was widespread and heavy 20-21, causing much disruption. More, dry, snow on Boxing Day; the cover was a foot deep across the south. A thaw set in on the 27th as mild air pushed away the continental air.
1939 A dry month and dull in Scotland. Slightly cooler than average. The month ended with a northerly airstream and a cold spell, auguring what was to come in. Several places were snow covered by Boxing Day 1939.
1940 Dry and mainly anticyclonic, and sunnier than average everywhere. There were strong winds on the 6th.
1941 Generally dry and anticyclonic, and milder than average.
1942 The start of a run of foggy Christmas's, with foggy Christmas Eve and Day and Boxing Day.
1943 Dry (less than half the average rainfall in many places), anticyclonic, and foggy. It was the second in a run of foggy Christmases.
1944 Dry in the south (with half the average rainfall at Kew) and wet in the north. A foggy Christmas. There was intense freezing fog in the south 19-29th, with everything covered in rime. Many areas in the south had subfreezing maxima on Christmas Day. Further north, in Scotland, mild Atlantic air gave much less interesting (and less dangerous) conditions.
1945 Generally mild and unsettled, with westerly winds. There was however a cold snap in the SE around the 7th when there was an encroachment of continental air. Christmas was very mild in the south: Plymouth reached 13C, while Goudhurs (near Tunbridge Wells, Kent) recorded 15C. There was dense (visibility < 5m) fog in the southeast on the 31st.
1946 Mild beginning and end. Windy and wet. There was a notable local snowfall in the northwest around Manchester on the 3rd. A number of cold spells with easterlies. The third week was cold, from the 16th, with snow in the south on the 19th. A minimum of -14C was recorded at Yeovilton (Somerset). There was more heavy snow across the SE. A thaw set in on the 22nd, and the rest of the month was wet and windy.
1947 Flooding at Chesil (Dorset) on the 13th. A notable thunderstorm on Christmas day night in the south, with marble-sized hail.
1948 This month saw the December record high (until 2019) of 18.3C recorded at Achnashellach (Wester Ross) on the 2nd, as a result of warm air and the Fohn effect. Even Cape Wrath reached 17.2C. High temperatures were recorded at other places on the lee of hills in the southerly flow; e.g. 17.7 at Aber and Llandudno. The same day, nearly 100mm of rain fell in South Wales. It was a windy day, too. Nearly 5 days of continuous fog ended on the 1st. Overall the month was wet in the west but dry in the east.
1949 A mild Christmas: Pembroke saw 11.7C on Christmas Day, but Boxing Day was even more mild, with13.9C at Bodiam (Sussex) and Manchester airport.
1950 Very cold (1.2C CET), with several snowy spells. On the 4th, there were 50 cm lying snow at Dalwhinnie and 15 cm at Manchester. The south was hit later in the month; 25 cm at Bournemouth and 37 cm at the Isle of Wight. Wide areas of the country were snow-covered for more than a fortnight in total.
1951 Mild and very wet. It was (until 2006) the sunniest December on record in Aberdeen.
1952 Overall mostly cold with a few milder westerly interludes, this month will always be remembered for one great weather event: the great London smog early in the month (5-9th in particular) - one of the most extreme weather events of the century. An anticyclone caused a temperature inversion over London. A combination of fog and air pollution, particularly from domestic coal fires, lead to a catastrophic smog. At its most dense visibility was reduced to 10-20 yards, in places less. The fog was black, and left oily deposits on windows. Around 4000 deaths were attributed to this smog, although there is now evidence that the number of deaths might have been as high as 12000. At least it led to the 1956 Clean Air Act. The fog duration of 4 days 18 hours is the equal record for low altitude (along with November 1948). Away from the foggy areas the month was sunnier than usual. The fog in the Thames valley had a maximum depth of about 100-130 m, so above this there was very sunny - Whipsnade had 35 hours of sunshine in the same period. The great smog was followed by a brief mild spell, but then there was a heavy snowfall in the second week: 20 cm at Welshpool on the 14th, 30 cm of snow at West Kirby (Merseyside) on the 15th, and up to 40 cm at Bwlchgwyn (north Wales) on the 16th, and 17 cm around Birmingham. Severe drifting in the north: 450 cm drifts on Skye. Villages in Orkney and Shetland were cut off. This was followed by a severe storm on the east coast on the 17th (with a gust of 111 mph recorded at Cranwell, Lincs., probably the record gust for lowland Britain; 91 mph at Stornoway; and 90 mph at Fleetwood, Lancs.) - buildings were damaged in the Midlands and East England. Mostly a dry month over the country.
1953 Very dry, mild, and dull. Very warm at Llandudno and Aber (north Wales) on the 2nd as a result of the Fohn effect. The month saw London's highest December maximum: 17.2C (63F) at Kensington Palace on the 4th, on an overcast day with a SW.
1954 A destructive tornado hit west and north London on the 8th in the late afternoon, injuring 12, during a very heavy thunderstorm. It destroyed Gunnersbury tube station in west London, ripping the roof off and injuring 6. A car was lifted 15' into the air at Acton. The tornado probably originated in the English channel, off Portsmouth, where a funnel cloud was reported as being sighted, and faded away in Herts. around 5.30 pm. It was associated with a thunderstorm; an inch of rain fell on London. On the 17-18th, 256 mm of rain fell over two days (153 mmon the 17 and 110 on the 18th) - if it had fallen in 24 hours this would have been the record daily rainfall to that date.
1955 Wet but dry in the Midlands and SE. It reached 59F on the 28th.
1956 Very mild and very dull, but with a true White Christmas. Rochdale recorded just 1.8 hours of sunshine this month, which is the record lowest amount of sunshine this century. Even some places in the SE had less than 8 hours of sunshine all month. The first twenty days were particularly mild. It was unsettled and stormy midmonth, with a gust of 110 mph on Stornoway on the 12th. It turned colder towards the end of the month. After some foggy days, there was snow cover on Christmas Day as Atlantic air pushed the continental cold air away. It then turned mild again from the 27th.
1957 A major smog led to the deaths of hundred of people in London.
1958 Mild and cloudy and wet. Widespread periods of fog and dense in some places. Dry first half, unsettled second half. Dull in the Midlands and South Yorkshire. It was a foggy Christmas Day.
1959 Quite mild, but stormy with gales. Wet, and the wettest for 21 years at Kew.
1960 Flooding in South Wales on the 3rd following heavy rain, with 152 mm falling on the Brecon Beacons.
1961 Generally on the cold side (2.2C CET), sunny at first with some sharp frosts and heavy snow in the north on the 4th. The second week however was mild and unsettled with 16C recorded on the 10th. High pressure then built to the north of Britain meant that the second half of the month was very cold, with some severe frosts and much fog. Christmas Day was cold but sunny. There was a maximum of only -5C in places on the 28th. The year ended with heavy snow across the Midlands and south on the 30-31st.
1962 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.
1963 Extremely dry.
1964 Generally wet and stormy, with flooding in the Lake District and Wales. There was much freezing fog on the 15th. It was a cold but sunny Christmas Day.
1965 Slightly colder than average overall.
1966 It was a cold but sunny Christmas Day. The record daily rainfall for the month of 199.1mm was set at Dalness in the Highlands on the 17th. The month started with an intense depression on the 1st; pressure was as low as 944 mb near the Mull of Galloway.
1967 Overall dry and sunny, with alternating cold and mild spells. There was a cold outbreak around the 8th-9th. Heavy snowfall in Dorset on the 9th. 45 cm of snow in North Wales on the 8th; as the cold air hit mild air on the south coast, there were thunderstorms along the channel and eight hours of snow in Brighton giving 28 cm, restricted to the coast. Temperatures fell to -13C in places, and the coldest day of the year was -14.4C at Carnwath (Strathclyde) on the 10th. Milder air arrived on the 11th. Another 60s cold spell for the south that I don't remember at all.
1968 A cold month overall, but in some areas the first proper White Christmas since 1938. The first two weeks were cold, dull, and dry. It then became milder and unsettled with heavy rain in parts of the country. Parts of the Midlands, from NE Wales to Buckinghamshire, had a white (and largely not forecast white) Christmas as rain turned to wet snow on Christmas Eve. So some lucky people woke up to snow (e.g. about 10 cm in Birmingham, and 25 cm in places). It turned cooler on the 23rd. Rain came in on from the west and hit the cold air, leading to heavy snow overnight into Christmas morning. Sadly, Southampton missed it, which is why I don't remember it at all. There was widespread snow between Christmas and the New Year. A severe glaze over Wales on Christmas Eve.
1969 Slightly colder than average. A very dull month in places, with only 7 hours of sunshine at Southend. It was a very foggy Christmas Day.
1970 A pretty average month overall, but more exciting around Christmas time, with cold weather arriving on Christmas Eve. There was thunder on Christmas Eve. A snowy Christmas: the last true White Christmas of the southeast (with snow falling and lying). I remember it snowing a lot in Southampton, but I don't think it was that bad really. After all, we still managed to drive to our gran's and back. The month was very dry overall.
1971 Very dry, and quite mild.
1972 The Fohn effect led to a reading of 18.0C at Aber, near Bangor, on the 18th; on that day Cape Wrath made 17.7. Very stormy in the first half of the month. 955 mbar recorded off NW Scotland on the 1st.
1973 A very cold start, but then generally a mild, unsettled month, though with some cold snaps and snow in the north. It was very cold in Scotland on the 1st: after a minimum of -17C early in the morning, in some locations the temperature didn't exceed freezing all day. Christmas Day was notably foggy.
1974 Very mild (8.1) - about the same as, or perhaps a fraction cooler, than December 1934. It was warmer than the preceding October and November. Dry in the south. Windy most of the month, with some severe gales. A thundery squall reached 89mph at Kew on the 11th. A gust of 95.5 mph at Eskdalemuir on the 29th. At Kew, 10C was reached 10 times this month, and 21 times at Falmouth. Roses bloomed throughout the month at Wisley (Surrey), into the following very mild January.
1975 The month had a stormy beginning. On the 1st, several tornadoes affected East Anglia. Glaze affected Wiltshire on the14th. A warm front moved in rapidly over cold air (it was -5 that morning), giving 5 mm of ice in places. Overall, it was slightly milder than usual.
1976 The month had a stormy beginning. At 2.0C overall, this was the coldest December since 1962. It was a cold and unsettled month, but also with frost and fog. There was a minimum of -16C at Crawford John on the 3rd, followed by a maximum of only -3C at Abbotsinch. A slight sleet shower in London on Christmas Day meant that this was a technical "White Christmas".
1977 Severe westerly gale on the 24th. Overall, quite mild.
1978 The start of a memorable winter: the Winter of Discontent was also often cold and snowy. The were frequent gales early in the month. On the 13th, there was a damaging hailstorm in south Devon. Some snowfalls in the week before Christmas, although Christmas itself was mild and dominated by SW winds and heavy rain. The Scandinavian blocking high was then in place at the end of the month, laying the ground work for the severe winter to come. The cold winter started on the 28th, when there was a marked contrast on the 28th: maximum of 14C in Guernsey, but beneath freezing all day in parts of Scotland. There were 255 mm of rain in 48 hours over the Mountains of Mourne at this time. The floodwaters in northern England froze, and snow fell on top. A severe blizzard struck southern England on the 30-31st, with deep drifting. New Year's Eve was the coldest for 40 years, with local maxima of -4C.
1979 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. Extremely mild first half.
1980 Cold first half, mild second half. Dry in the south.
1981 A wonderful month: the coldest this century (0.3C CET), and also very snowy. It started and ended mild, but there was a severe wintry spell from the 8th to the 27th. As the month started a warm front moving around a large high SW of Ireland brought temperatures of 15C to Aberdeen on the 3rd. As the high slipped away cold fronts brought progressively colder air south. Very cold air with hail and snow reached Shetland on the 4th. A depression moved southeast across the country on the 7th, bringing some very cold air south after it. A high developed over Greeland. Rain turned to heavy snow, with a sharp temperature fall, on the 8th; here was transport havoc in London following the snow. There was freezing fog on the 10th. There were some exceptional temperatures in a northerly airflow. On the 11th, the minimum around Glasgow was -13C, and the maximum the next day only -5C. As a low crossed northern France on the 11th, there was widespread heavy snowfall in the south (26 cm at Heathrow). Clearing skies, fresh snow, still air, Arctic air, all add up to one thing: very low temperatures. Hence the following night it was even colder: the minimum at Shawbury (Shrops.) was -22.6C on the night of the 11-12th, a maximum of -12.1C the following day, and then a minimum of -25.1C on the night of the 12-13th. It was already down to -22C by 6pm on the 12th! This was the lowest reading in December this century until 1995. I remember we sat around cheering the temperature down those nights. Temperatures of -20C were quite widespread. Another depression gave a real blizzard (snow and wind speeds of 95 mph in the south west) on the 13th. A storm surge up the Bristol Channel led to extensive flooding. The Queen had to stay the night in a local pub in the Cotswolds as rocks were blocked. By this time there were 10" of snow in London, and 3' drifts at Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales. There were gales and flooding in the south on the 14th as it turned slightly milder, with gales and rain and a rapid thaw. More snow on high ground in the west on the 15th-16th, and in Scotland on the 17th. Flooding in the Bristol Channel area.High winds added to the widespread disruption: on the 19th the Penlee lifeboat capsized, with the loss of 16 hands. (A reminder that however much we enjoy severe weather, it can be tragic for some.) The weather then turned cold again, with more snow, particularly on the 20th in the east. There was snow on the ground, but no snow fall on the 25th, so not a technical white Christmas. There was a lot of dense freezing fog around. Snow lay for three weeks in many places. There was widespread flooding at the end when a thaw set in. I remember it being really cold: the Cam was frozen, and people pushed shopping trolleys across it. I was too apprehensive (or wise) to try this myself. Hence this is my most interesting December of the century.
1982 Wet and windy, cold in the north. A gust of nearly 90 mph was recorded at Leeming on the 15th. A pressure reading of only 937.6 mbar was recorded at Stornoway on the 20th. This was the lowest pressure reading in Britain for nearly a hundred years.
1983 Mild and wet. Colder spell midmonth. It then became mild and unsettled, and stormy at times. There was 250 mm of rain in the last week of the month at Fort William. It reached 16C in several locations on the 27th.
1984 Average temperatures overall. After a mild, wet start, it became colder and drier in the south in the second week. There was some persistent fog around on the 11th. The temperature reached 17.4C at Cape Wrath on the 13th. There was a maximum of only -4C at Abbotsinch on the 27th.
1985 Mild and wet. There was an exceptional warm spell on the first three days of the month. 17.7C at Chivenor (North Devon) and 17.2C recorded at Bude (Cornwall) as a consequence of the Fohn effect on the 2nd, with dull, wet, unsettled weather. Flooding in the south. Very mild until Christmas Day; there was then a cold spell in late December in the north, with some severe frosts and snow showers. -17C recorded at Glenlivet on the the 30th.
1986 Mild, wet, unsettled, and windy. The wettest December of the century in Scotland. There was a minimum of 13C in places on the 4th. There was flooding in north Wales on the 29th; 105 mm of rain fell at Nantmor.
1987 Mild and changeable overall, after a cold start. Cloudy and dry, particularly in the SE. 16C at Minehead on the 17th, and 18C at Cape Wrath on the 18th.
1988 Exceptionally mild (7.5) - the second warmest this century. Dull but very dry. Very mild on Christmas Eve (14.9C at Torquay) and Christmas Day (14C).
1989 A varied month, but generally unsettled. Cool over the north, mild in the south. Largely dull apart from the far north. Broom's Barn (Suffolk) recorded only 25 hours of sunshine. There was a cold spell in the north midmonth; most of central Scotland stayed beneath freezing from the 12-15th, and on the 14th, the temperature at Tummel Bridge rose to a maximum of only -6.6C, from a minimum of -13 C. It was wet spell just before Christmas, with over 100 mm of rain in places. A tornado hit the villages of East and West Stour (Dorset) on the 21st, causing damage and uprooting trees. Thunder recorded on Christmas Day.
1990 Overall, normal temperatures. Most famous for the Midlands snowstorm of the second week. Wet snow on the night of the 7-8th led to widespread disruption in the Midlands, particularly around Birmingham. I remember this well. In Leamington Spa, I said we'd be snowed in, but no one believed me. Very cold air moved south from the north on the 7th, and a depression formed on the cold front that brought it down across the country. It stalled over the Midlands, with snow on its western flank, accompanied by a northerly gale. Severe disruption to power and transport, with many people trapped in their cars on the M6 near Coventry. The snow didn't freeze, so the thaw was quite rapid. Very stormy over Christmas. Thunder on Christmas Day quite widespread, and a number of minor tornadoes were reported, particularly in Wiltshire and Somerset, as an active cold front moved quickly eastwards across the country, bringing spells of very heavy rain, thunder, and hail. There was a damaging whirlwind in South Wales on the 29th.
1991 Very dry and anticyclonic. Tropical air led to a temperature of 15.6 (60F+!) at (Elmstone) Canterbury on the 22nd. I particularly remember however the severe freezing fogs of the second week. -10.8 in Berkshire early on the 12th. A maximum of only -3.1 at Great Malvern on the 12th (and ever lower, -4.6 in souh Yorkshire on the 11th).
1992 Unsettled and mild at the start, but with a late cold snap. Overall, cool and dry, except in the west. Serious flooding across Wales, the west, and Midlands in the first week. The flooding was worst in the Welsh valleys on the 3rd, following 200 mm of rain in the preceding ten days on the hills. There was heavy snowfall in Scotland on the 15-16th, with 45 cm of laying snow at Aviemore on the morning of the 16th. The temperature fell to -14.2C at Grantown-on-Spey on the 21st. It was a very foggy Christmas Day.
1993 Very mild in the south, cold in Scotland. Generally very wet (the wettest since 1979). Severe gale on the night of the 8th/9th in the south, with flooding. 100 mm in 48 hours in the upper Rhondda valley around the 18th. Warm air led to widespread readings of 15.5 on the 18/19th. Wet, but with some snow between Christmas and the New Year. Technically (see above), a White Christmas. Snow on the 28th, then mild and wet: 50 mm of rain at Southsea on the 30th. This led to floowing across West Sussex, which intensified in January 1994. More flooding along the south coast at the end of the month, particularly on the Isle of Wight and in Cornwall (particularly around Polperro, causing much damage).
1994 Warm (the only very mild December from 1988 to present ), sunny, and wet. Very wet in the west. The wettest December week of the century in Glasgow. It rained continuously for over 72 hours at Loch Sloy, the longest recorded period of rainfall on record (although it is likely that longer periods have occurred in the NW Highlands, but have not been recorded). 170 mm fell there on the 10th alone, and there was 350 mm in a week. Not surprisingly given these totals, there was widespread flooding in western Scotland.
1995 The coldest December since 1981, and generally wet. A very easterly month. A major incursion of arctic air into Scotland at the end of the month caused a wonderful spell of wintry weather (sadly the year before I moved here). From the 18th on, high pressure over Greenland fed extremely cold Arctic south. There was a Christmas Eve and Christmas day northerly blizzard in Scotland and the northeast, with a severe blizzard in the Shetlands on Christmas Day, with 35 cm of snow driven into large drifts. There were some snow flurries as far south as the Thames. Around 15 cm of level snow fell in the early hours of the 26th in North Wales down to sea level. Both daytime and nighttime temperatures were very low. There were four consecutive nights from the 26-27th recorded beneath -20C (Altnaharra managed it on all nights: -21 on the 27th, -24C on the 28th, and -27.2C on the 29-30th). A new December record was set: -27.2C at Altnaharra in the Highlands soon after midnight the 30th; this is also (with Braemar in January 1982) the equal record lowest temperature recorded in Britain this century. As the winds then strengthened, the temperature there rose from -21.2C (the midday reading!) to -1.0 in under three hours on the afternoon of the 30th. The wind started to pick up in the wee hours of the 30th, and if it had not been for this annoyance, it is possible that the magical -30C would have been breached. As the temperature continued to increase (to all of 1.7C on the 30th) the daily range was an enormous 28.9C, close to, and indeed probably is, the greatest UK daily temperature range. Although it was nowhere near as cold in the south, it was still cold: the lowest temperature at Elmdon (near Birmingham), for example, was -9.0C on the 29th. The maximum at Braemar on the 29th was only -15C; even Glasgow (airport) only saw a maximum of -12C on the 29th, followed by a new record low of -20C for Glasgow. The maximum at Fyvie Castle on the 29th was -15.9, the lowest maximum for Scotland and indeed the UK on record. Nearby in Wishaw the maxima on the 25th to 30 were -3.9C, -8.8, -11.4, -12.7, and -15.8, with dense freezing fog, and a minimum of -23.1 on the 29th. Much of Scotland remained beneath freezing for the last week of the year. More of this please! On the 30th the calm was replaced by an easterly, and temperatures started to rise again. There was freezing rain on the 30th in parts of the west and south of Britain. As temperatures rose, so did the pipes burst, giving plumbers a busy and lucrative time. It was a particularly wet month in the south of Britain.
1996 Cold, but not exceptionally so, and dry, except in the north-east. The southeast recorded only 15.5mm (28%) of rain. An easterly month. Notable cold spell from the 21st on, particularly across the south. Dull first three weeks, but sunny end more than compensated. Some local light snow on Christmas Day, but heavier falls on the 27th and 30th, particularly in Kent. Thick snow cover in the Channel Islands - 12 cm on the 31st. Dry. A deep depression crossed Scotland on the 1st, with 943 mbar at its centre. Gales, and a tornado near Wilmslow uprooted trees. The coldest temperature of the month was -13C at Aviemore on Chirstmas morning.
1997 Mild, wet, and changeable, with a severe gale on Christmas Eve in the west. 111 mph reported at the Lleyn Penisula; 79mph at Cosby. The Christmas Eve Storm was probably the worst since December 1993, possibly since the 1990 Burns Day Storm. It was particularly bad over Ireland, north Wales, and northwest England. Heavy rain. There was structural damage in the northwest. It was also very mild on Christmas Eve, with 15.2C recorded at Chivenor. Altogether there were four storms over this windy Christmas period. There was a pressure reading on 1045 mbar at Lerwick (Shetland) on the 16th. It was also very mild on Christmas Eve in the west: 15.2C in Bristol and at Chivenor (north Devon). Quite dull in the east and north: the week before Christmas was the dullest of the year.
1998 Changeable, very mild at times. The month was slightly warmer than average, particularly in the north and west; the east was very slightly cooler than average. A cold spell in the north at the start was more than compensated for by a very mild spell midmonth, with a few favoured spots (e.g. Kinloss) reaching 16C. Quite dry in the east. A very mild Christmas. A Great Storm on Boxing Day, with particularly strong winds across Northern Ireland and central Scotland. The Forth Road Bridge was completely closed for the first time ever. Prestwick airport logged winds of 103 mph, and Glasgow airport 93 mph; mild too, with 15C in the Midlands. This storm is now known in Ireland as "Hurricane Stephen". Another (not quite so bad) storm followed the Boxing Day Storm on the 29th. An avalanche on Aonach Mor (near Ben Nevis) killed four people. Best places to be: Bristol and Glasgow.
1999 A very mixed month. Generally wet and sunny, with temperatures close to normal - although made up from a mixture of cold and mild spells. A low pressure month. Warmest at the start (14.9C at Thorney Island) and coldest from 18-21st (-14C at Rhayader and Sennybridge in mid-Wales on the 20th). Some snow. The wettest December in England and Wales since 1993, and the sunniest since 1973. Very wet in the west, with flooding in Glasgow and the southwest of England. Memorable storm with 100mph gales on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day.
2000 A wet month, overall slightly warmer than average. It was sunny in the NW, but dull on the south coast. Particularly wet in the SW. A very mild, wet, stormy first half; the first week was the warmest since 1986, and the first half since 1979. 15C widely recorded on the 5th (Leeds), 11th, and 13th. The last week brought Arctic air which partly offset the earlier mild weather; the cold spell was the most notable and widespread since that of 1995. -14C was recorded at Hereford on the 29th and -15C at Dalmally (Argyll) on the 30th - the lowest UK reading since January 1997. Most of the country saw some snow, with the 27-29th being the main snowfall event of the year. The M40 was closed for a time near Oxford. Parts of the Home Counties saw the deepest snow since February 1991, with 20 cm at Luton airport. Some parts of Scotland remained beneath freezing from the 25th to 31st.
2001 Dry and sunny; colder than average, but not exceptionally so (3.5C, the coldest since 1996). In many places it was the sunniest December recorded, with many places having twice the average (with more sunshine than some very dull Augusts). The south coast did best for sunshine; totals included 119.8 hours at St. Helier (Jersey), a new December record , 118.9 at Weymouth, 115.3 at Torquay, and 115.1 at Bognor Regis. It was the driest December since 1991, with the England and Wales total only about half the expected total. After a mild start, with 16.1C at Nantmor on the 11th, becoming very anticyclonic, with pressure peaking at 1046 mbar over Scotland around the 16th. A cold end.
2002 Quite mild and wet in the south and east; very dry in the north. The dull weather continued until late in the month, with easterlies bringing a great deal of cloud. Aberdeen had only 6 hours of sunshine between 17 November and 16 December. It turned clear and colder midmonth, with freezing fog. There was a minimum of -8.4C at Altnaharra on the 17th. The maximum at Strathallan near Perth on the 19th was -3C. The lowest temperature of the month was -8.6C at Altnaharra on the morning of the 20th. It then turned milder, being very mild around Christmas, with moist southerly winds. It was on 15C at Torquay on Christmas Eve. It was very wet across the Midlands and North on the 29th. It was the dullest December since 1989, and parts of the east were exceptionally dull. Tell me about it.
2003 Quite cold; some mild spells mixed with cold ones. Temperatures ranged from 15C in Aberdeen on the 5th and in Exeter and Gloucester on the 11th, to -15.8C at Altnaharra on the 31st, after a minimum of -14.9C the night before, and a maximum of -9.1C. The same night it reached -16.1C at Kinbrace (the lowest December reading since 1995). Widespread fog in England on the 9th and 10th. Christmas was particularly mild. There was a notable snowfall, with blizzards in places, in the north and east on New Year's Eve. (Indeed, we were snowed in for three days.) Rainfall was about average in most places, although it was very wet along the central south coast. The month was generally sunnier than average.
2004 A mild month, although parts of the west and north (including us) saw a white Christmas at last. In Scotland it was unsettled throughout; in England and Wales it was dull and anticyclonic until the 16th, and unsettled thereafter. Parts of east Kent saw only 7 hours of sunshine in the first half of the month, but in parts of east Scotland it was the sunniest December since 1967. The coldest night was the 18-19th, where Kinbrace (Sutherland) recorded -15.2C (which was the lowest reading of 2004). On the other hand Colwyn Bay recorded 15.6C on the 30th. Rainfall overall was beneath average; parts of east England had no rain at all in the first half of the month, when anticyclonic gloom reigned supreme. It was very wet in the far NW.
2005 Sunny and quite dry. It was particularly sunny in the SE. Sunshine averaged 65 hours, against an expected mean of 48 hours - the fourth sunniest December on record (but not as sunny as 2001). Apart from the very beginning and end it as an anticyclonic month. Temperatures overall were about normal, with some mild days in the first part of the month offset by a cold end. There was a cold, snowy spell at the end of the month, with some heavy snow in the southeast and then the north and east. The minimum at Aviemore on the 29th was -12.8C on the night of the 28-29th, and the maximum at Durham on the 29th was only -3.9C. It was a dry month; parts of Dorset had no rain from the 7th until the 29th.
2006 Overall warmer than average - in England and Wales the mildest since 1988, with frequent SW winds (the most so since 1974). It was very wet and unsettled in the first half of the month, but very dry and anticyclonic second half. It was extremely wet in the west in the first half of the month. It was relatively dry in the east. A tornado caused devastation in the Kendal Rise area of NW London on the morning of 7 December, injuring six and damaging 150 houses. There was flooding in Scotland midmonth, particularly around the Tay. As the anticyclone grew, there was dense fog in the south before Christmas, causing travel disruption. It became very cold in the NE, with -9.4C at Aberdeen on the 25th; Fyvie had 94 hours of frost. The thick rime at least looked like a White Christmas in many parts. Although some places had dense fog in this period, others had a great deal of sunshine; Aberdeen had 12 days of sunshine. It was exceptionally sunny in parts of the NE; it was the sunniest December on record for Aberdeen (88 hours, beating the previous December record of 67 hours in 1951.) The month ended wet and stormy in the north, cancelling many Hogmanay celebrations. There were gales, thunderstorms, and tornadoes in Northern Ireland.
2007 Average temperatures overall. Dry, particularly in the east, with about half eht expected rainfall. Shoeburyness (Essex) had just 22 mm of rain. It was quite sunny, except for parts of the east, with an England and Wales average of 57 hours. The first third of the month was unsettled and mild; middle two weeks anticyclonic and getting colder with frost and fog; unsettled finish. The lowest temperature of the month was -13.0C at Aboyne (Aberdeenshire) on the morning of the 22nd; the maximum at Aberfeldy (Perthshire) on the 21st was just -4.2C.
2008 A mixed month, with a cold beginning, a mild week before Christmas, and turning cold again on Boxing Day as winds swung to the east. It was the coldest December since 2001, and only 1996 recently has been substantially colder. The lowest temperature of the month was -12.9C at Aviemore on the morning of the 30th. The maximum at Kinloss on the 30th was just -4.0C. It was a dry month, with 64 mm E&W average being just 65% of the long-term mean, making it the driest December again since 2001. Parts of Essex saw less than half an inch of rain. Many parts of the east and south had no rain at all after the 13th. It was very sunny, with an average of 75 hours (158%), in many places the sunniest December since again 2001.
2009 Colder than average - overall, the coldest December since 1996. It was a particularly cold month in Scotland. It was fairly mild in the south and cool in the north until it turned much, much colder on the 17th. Overall England and Wales saw average precipitation (104%), although it was drier in Scotland and Northern Ireland (just 56% of average). It was much sunnier than average (153%), particularly in the SE and Northern Ireland. The highest temperature of the month was 13.4C at Eastbourne (Sussex) on the 5th. There were several spells of severe snowfall across the country throughout the second half of the month. The third week was cold and snowy across the country, and several sites saw a white Christmas. There were many low minima in the north at the end of the month, culminating in -18.4C at Braemar on the 29th, although it was less cold in the south. This minimum was then followed by a maximum of -12.2C at Braemar on the 30th.
2010 An amazing month: exceptionally cold, with a CET of -0.7C. This month was the coldest December since 1890, the coldest month of any since 1986, and the first time the month's average CET (Central England Temperature) was beneath zero since 1986. The exceptionally cold weather continued from the end of November with more heavy snow in the east and south right from the start of the month. The lowest minimum of the month was -21.1C at Altnaharra on the 1st. The lowest maximum of the month, -15.8C, was also recorded at Altnaharra, on the 22nd. After a very cold first ten days the weather turned slightly milder for a while until extremely cold air swept south across the country on the 16th. The air arrived with more snow, and was then followed by some extremely low daytime and night-time temperatures. A new all-time record minimum was set twice in the month in Northern Ireland, with -18.6C at Castlederg on the morning of the 23rd. (The temperature then in fog fell to -18.7C just after 9, so the record is officially accredited to the 24th.) Other very low temperatures included -18.7C at Pershore on the 20th following a maximum of -8.2C on the 19th, -19.6C at Shawbury on the 19th, and -19.4C at Altnaharra on the 22nd. There were some very low daytime maxima too, including -11.0C at Castlederg on the 18th, -11.3C at Edenfel, Omagh, and -8.2C at Pershore on the 19th. Ten nights during the month the temperature dropped beneath -18C (OF) somewhere in the UK. It was a White Christmas in the sense of widespread lying snow, with some snow showers in the east. It was the coldest Christmas day on record with a minimum of -18.2C at Altnaharra; the temperature Christmas night at Pershore fell to -16.2C, and only rose to a maximum of -6.4C on Boxing Day. This is the first time there have been two consecutive white Christmases since reliable records began. It became slightly warmer, particularly in the south, from the 28th. The highest temperature of the month was 11.5C at St Mary's (Scilly) on the 28th. The thaw led to widespread bursting of pipes, particularly in parts of Northern Ireland where serious water shortages ensued. It was a dry month, with just 39.4 mm averaged overall England and Wales (39& of the long-term average), making it the driest December since 1991, and the third driest on record (since 1910). Both Scotland (47%) and Northern Ireland (60%) were very dry. Shap in Cumbria, often one of the wettest places in Britain, saw just 7 mm of rain all month. Sunshine was variable. It was very sunny in the west and north, with Scotland averaging 176% with 58 hours and Northern Ireland 61.5 hours being 173%; England and Wales averaged 55 hours (116%). Sunshine totals ranged from 91 hours at Auchincruive in Ayrshire to just 10 hours at Charlwood in Surrey. Some places in the SE, such as south Essex, saw virtually no sunshine in the final two weeks. Overall thought it was theird sunniest December since sunshine records started to widely kept in 1929. Many places in Britain had snow lying all month; indeed many locations (including my own station in east Scotland) had snow lying from 25th November through into the New Year. This month now becomes my most interesting December on record.
2011 A very westerly month with frequent gales (the second most westerly December on record). Overall it was warmer than average, making it the mildest December since 2006, although it was warmest in southern England and coolest in Northern Ireland. The highest temperature of the month was 15.5C at Fyvie (Aberdeenshire) on the 26th, and the lowest -9.4C at Loch Glascarnoch (Wester Ross) early on the 18th. It didn't reach above -3.0C at Aviemore on the 16th. It was slightly wetter than average in England and Wales, with 112mm of rain (115%). Although it was sunnier than the long-term average (55 hours, 105 hours) it was the least sunny December for some years. A phenomenal gale causes widespread disruption on Thursday 8th, especialy to central and southern Scotland. Bridges shut. A gust of 165 mph is recorded on Cairngorm. It's a green and mild Christmas, with 15.1C recorded at Aberdeen, not far from the previous record o 15.6C in 1896 and 1920. Northern Ireland had its warmest Christmas Day on record: 14.3C at Murlough, County Down. It's also a very windy day, especially across the north, with gusts of 101 mph at Sella Ness in Shetland and a severe gale in Orkney and Shetland. There was another severe gale in central Scotland on the 28th.
2012 A very cyclonic month, and as a consequence a very wet month; the sixth wettest in the last century. The England and Wales rainfall total was 171.8 mm (177% of the long-term 81-10 average), making it the wettest since 1978. 90.00 mm fell at Tyndrum on the 20th. The SW was particularly affected by flooding. Overall temperatures though were very close to normal after a relatively cold start. The highest temperature of the month was 14.1C at Exeter on the 22nd, and the lowest -12.9C at Braemar on the 6th. The maximum at Braemar on the 11th was just -3.8C. As is often the case with very wet winter months, it was also relatively sunny, with 115% of the long-term mean in England and Wales, making it the sunniest December since 2009.
2013 A wet, windy, stormy month with a great deal of flooding and some notable storm surges. Overall it was a very mild month, at 6.3C, but not as mild as 2006 in recent years. It was also a wet one, with the England and Wales average being 133 mm, 136% of normal. Tyndrum (Stirling) recorded 648 mm in the month. Sunshine was 114% of average (60 hours). The pressure at Stornoway early on Christmas Eve was just 936.8 mbar, the lowest in Britain since December 1886. The highest temperature of the month was 17.0C at Llanfairfechan (Caenarfon) on the 11th, and the coldest night -6.0C at Dalwhinnie on the 6th. There was a notable surge along the North Sea coast on 5-6th. In the storm a gust of 93 mph was recorded at Altnaharra. The wettest day, the 23d, saw 155.4 mm fall at Postbridge, Dartmoor. Storms meant that many properties, particularly in Surrey, Sussex, and Kent, suffered serious flooding, and many places were without electricity for Christmas. There was another storm on 27 December, with gusts of 109 mph in Caernafon.
2014 About average temperatures overall, slightly warmer in the south and slightly colder in the north. It was a westerly but also relatively calm month. There was a mild spell mid-month, and then from Christmas on it turned much colder (but not exceptionally so, and with little widespread snow). The highest temperature of the month was 14.2C at Nantwich in Cheshire on the 22nd, and the lowest -9.0C at Cromdale (Morayshire), overnight on the 26-27th - this was the lowest temperature in the UK in the year. Rainfall averaged 77.6 mm, which is 88% of the long-term average, with, as would be expected with a westerly airflow, more rain than the west, while parts of the east were quite dry. It was also a very sunny month, with an average of 79.7 hours being 152%, the highest for December since 2001. It was a windy month in western Scotland.
2015 An exceptionally mild month - phenomenally so, with a CET of 9.7, a phenomenally high figure, 1.6C higher than any other December, higher than most Novembers and all Marches, and a UK mean of 7.9, easily (by 1.0C) warmer than any previous December on record. Many areas saw no frost at all month. It was also the wettest Decembers on record, particularly in the west and north, and indeed the wettest of any month on record, with provisional figures of 191% of rainfall overall all for the UK. Parts of Snowdonia may have recorded over a metre of rain (40"), and there were some new record monthly rainfall totals: for the K (1396 mm at Crib Goch in Snowdonia - that's nearly 55") and Ireland (943 mm at Gernapeka, Co. Cork). Given the totals, it is not surprising that there was some catastrophic flooding across the north and west. Following very heavy rain on Storm Desmond on 5 December, there is severe flooding in the north, particularly in Cumbria. A new rainfall record for 24 hours in any month is set on the 6th, of 341.1 mm, at Honister Pass. There is more flooding in the north, particularly in Lancashire and the south of Scotland, with Storm Eva, on Boxing Day, with many rivers breaking their banks. Storm Frank brought yet more warm wet tropical air with flooding in the north right at the end of the year. In the 9-9 rain day, 264.4 mm fell at Thirlmere in Cumbria; 341.4 mm fell at Honister Pass in Cumbria in 24 hours up to 6 pm on the 5th, setting a new UK 24 hour record. A maximum of 17.2C was recorded at Teignmouth in Devon and at Achnagart and Plockton in Highland on the 16th. A gust of nearly 100 mph was recorded at the Needles on the 31st.
2016 Overall very mild, the eighth mildest since 1910. The highest temperature was 17.0C at Hawarden (Flintshire) on the 7th, and the lowest was -11.0 at Cromdale (Moray) on the 5th. The month had a cold anticyclonic start with frost. Then from the 5th mostly southerly winds brought very mild weather, with occasional rain and a great deal of fog, thick enough to interfere with transport. There was a maximum of 16.2¡C at Peatlands (County Armagh) on the 7th, which was a new record high for Northern Ireland in December. It was then unsettled, with a very mild Christmas Day, record-breaking in places. It was also very stormy in places on the 25th and 26th. It was more settled and colder at the end of the month. It was a very dry month, with just 69% of the long-term average, and particularly dry in the SE. Sunshine was about average, although it was quite sunny in eastern and central England. 109.6 mm of rain fell at Kinlochewe (Wester Ross) on the 30-31st.
2017 A mixed month, with spells of cold and less cold weather cancelling each other out. There were two named storms, Caroline on the 7th and Dylan on the 30th. It was quite snowy in central Britain from the 8th to the 16th. It was a green, mild Christmas, although it turned slightly colder afterwards. Temperatures overall were close to average, although it was quite mild in the SW. Overall rainfall was close to average, but it was quite dry in east Scotland and NE England. It was though a sunny month, 115% of average, and very sunny in the the NE and in central Scotland. The highest temperature of the month was 15.2C at Cassley (Sutherland) on the 12th, and the lowest was -13.0C at Shawbury (Shropshire) on the 12th; the latter was the lowest temperature of the year in the UK.
2018 Changeable, and milder than average. There was a cold spell midmonth followed by snow, sleet, and widespread freezing rain on the 15th. The end of the month was generally more settled. Sunshine and rainfall were close to average, although it sunny and drier in the northeast. The highest temperature of the month was 15.9C at Kew (London) on the 2nd, and the lowest -8.8 C at Braemar on the 5th. 64.6 mm of rain fell at Cluanie Inn (Ross & Cromarty) on the 8th.
2019 The month was unsettled with a very wet first three weeks, particularly in the east and south of England, where rainfall was close to double the average; overall rainfall was 116% of average. It was milder than average with a few colder interludes. It was sunny in the east but dull in the west, with 113% of the average overall (121 mm in England and Wales). There was a new record December maximum of 18.7C at Achfary (Highlands) on the 28th, thanks to the Foehn effect, beating the 1948 record of 18.3C (also set in north Scotland). On the same day the maxiym at Writtle (Essex) was just 1.7C. The lowest temperature ofnthe month was -10.3 at Tulloch Bridge on the 1st.
2020 Overall slightly milder than average. Cool first week, then mild and windy, with colder final week. Storm Bella brought stronger winds, rain, cold, and some snow, on the 26th. It was a wet month, with 135% of average rainfall, and slightly duller than average (93%), and particularly so in the north. The highest temperature of the month was 14.9C at Prestatyn in Clwyd on the 18th, and the lowest -10.2C at Dalwhinnie on the 30th.
December in history
987 On the 22nd December a frost began that "lasted 120 days in England".
1141 Recorded as very cold.
1676 Extremely cold, with an estimated average of -0.5. In this, the "Little Ice Age", there were a number of very cold Decembers: four Decembers in this decade had a mean of 1C or less.
1683 Cold, (0.5), but most notable for being the start of what must have been one of the extreme winters on record: The Great Winter. Extraordinary blizzard in the SW. WInter really set in around the 13th and persisted for weeks, with the Thames frozen and ice fairs.
1703 The Eddystone lighthouse was washed away in a gale on the 7-8th.
1710 Very mild (7.5).
1733 Very mild (7.6) - until recently, the mildest on record.
1739 The start of the second coldest winter on record, starting on the 29th with a strong gale and temperatures beneath -9C. With such a strong east wind the frost was exceptionally penetrating.
1740 A NE gale sent waters a mile inland at Dunwich (Suffolk), destroying most of what was left of the ancient town.
1768 The cold spell from the end of December continued till the second week. Gilbert WhiteÊin Selbourne noted that it was "the most severe known for many years - much damage to ever-greens". Daytime maxima might have been no higher than -7C, with night time minima in the south possibly as low as -19C.
1788 Very cold (-0.3C CET), and the driest on record (8.9 mm).
1792 A great storm 10-12
1796 Very cold (-0.3).
1810 A tornado did considerable damage to Portsmouth on the 14th.
1813 The start of the last Frost Fair on the Thames.
1821 At the end of an unsettled month, an extremely deep depression passed off the south coast on 25th December. There was an extremely low pressure reading in London: 945.8 mbar.
1830 This White Christmas formed the basis for that described in the Pickwick Papers.
1836 The worst blizzard in a century started on Christmas Eve and lasted 5 days. An avalanche killed eight people on the 27th when sunshine melted a cornice of snow on hills 60m above houses in Lewes (Sussex).
1839 On Christmas Eve there was the biggest landslip recorded in this country. 50 acres of coastal land slipped to the beach between Lyme Regis and Axmouth. No one was killed but several properties were lost. The landslip resulted from months of heavy rain saturating the ground and causing the junction of sand and chalk levels to become modible. This region of the Jurassic Coast is now known as the Undercliff.
1840 A very cold Christmas in a cold winter.
1843 Very mild, but also very anticyclonic and dry. Parts of the Midlands reported no rain at all.
1852 Very mild (7.7).
1857 Very mild, and also very anticyclonic and dry. With few frosts, tender plants were noted as carrying on flowering, and spring plants came into blossom.
1860 Wet early on in the month, but with an extremely snowy, very cold Christmas, with easterly winds bringing very cold air off the continent. Deep snow and freezing fog.
1863 12.48 inches of rain (that's 318 mm) of rain was recorded at Portree, Isle of Skye, on the 5th of December.
1864 12.41 inches of rain recorded in one twenty-four hour period at Seathwaite in Cumberland.
1870 A very cold, snowy Christmas in a cold month (0.6 CET). A notable sun pillar was seen in the southeast on Boxing Day.
1874 Very cold (-0.2).
1876 The wettest on record (194 mm, 227%).
1878 Very cold (-0.3).
1879 A cold month across Europe, being in many places the coldest month of the nineteenth century. There were some very low temperature readings: On the 3rd a reading of -30.6C was recorded at Blackadder Water, near Kelso.Then there was -23.9C at Lauder (Borders) and -23.3C at Ketton (Stamford, Lincs.) on the 6th, and a maximum of -10C at Appleby (Westmorland) that day. Sadly the Blackadder temperature is discounted as a non-standard reading. More reliably, -26.7C was recorded at Springwood Park, Kelso, on the 3rd. This was the all-time record low for December until 1995. In the first week there were some heavy snowfalls on northerly winds, with drifts several feet deep even across the south. There was a notable storm on Sunday 28th: waterspouts caused the collapse of the old Tay rail bridge on the 28th, killing 74 people. The cold persisted from November into Jauary.
1883 A severe gale in the north on the 11th; Pudsey Church spire was blown down.
1886 There was a pressure reading of only 927.2 mbar in Belfast on the 8th. 922.5 mbar was reported from Omagh. This latter figure is disputed, but if correct it would represent a sea level record low for the British Isles. The lowest undisputed figure was 927.2 mbar at Belfast. It was however an extremely sunny month. There was a heavy snowfall of damaging wet snow, accompanied by an easterly gale, on Boxing Day in the southeast, with a foot of snow recorded in parts of Hampshire. The month was also unusual in being both cold and very wet.
1888 17.9C was recorded at Forres on the 6th.
1890 The coldest on record (-0.8C). The month started very cold, with November's exceptionally cold spell continuing. In London no sunshine whatsoever was recorded. It was also a very foggy month. This was the last time the CET December average was beneath freezing before 2010. However Scotland is estimated to have been 2.6C warmer than England and Wales.
1894 Winds changed to the NW on the 31st, and a severe winter set in.
1896 A very mild Christmas Day, with 15.6C recorded.