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The Winter Of 1947

January 27, 2017
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By Paul Homewood




This month marks the 70th anniversary of probably Britain’s snowiest winter since the mid 19thC.

The Met Office has this fascinating account:


Seventy years ago, from late January until mid March, easterly winds drove a succession of snowstorms across the UK resulting in what was believed to have been the snowiest winter since the mid-nineteenth century. Six weeks of snow, which began on January 23, led to thousands of people being cut off by snowdrifts. As the UK was recovering from the effects of the Second World War, the armed forces were called upon to clear roads and railways of snowdrifts that were up to seven metres deep in places.

According to the record, snow fell every day somewhere in the UK for a run of 55 days. Because the temperature on most days barely exceeded freezing, much of the snow settled.

Mike Kendon, who works for the Met Office’s National Climate Information Centre, has co-authored several papers on the severity of British winters. He said: “It was clear that no-one expected the winter of 1947 to be severe. At the start of January the conditions were generally very mild and temperatures of up to 14 °C were recorded in places. However, all of this was to change as an area of high pressure set up a weather pattern which dominated the UK for the rest of the winter.”


February 1947 was the coldest February on record in many places. At Kew Observatory the temperature didn’t rise above 4.4 °C, and in Bedfordshire on the 25 February, the temperature dropped to -21 °C.

Mike Kendon added: “Meteorologically, spring begins on 1 March. But in the early part of March 1947, people’s minds weren’t on spring. Gales and heavy snowstorms brought blizzard conditions especially on March 4 and 5 when heavy snow fell over most of England and Wales. This led to drifts several metres deep in parts of the Pennines and the Chilterns.

“Many people regard 1963 as a record winter, and in the record going back to 1910, this winter does stand out. But 1947 broke after the middle of meteorological winter, which in one way dilutes the severity of the second half of winter.”

At the end of the freeze, rising temperatures brought a rapid thaw of the deep snow which led to meltwaters pouring into rivers, causing many to burst their banks.



Winter’s impacts on wildlife


Of course it wasn’t just people who were affected, as wildlife was also dealt a cruel blow. Naturalist and broadcaster Chris Packham, who is currently on our screens as one of the presenters of BBC Winterwatch, said: “Winter is always a challenging season for wildlife, but some winters stand out as being especially harsh, with 1947 being a particularly brutal example. Reports following the winter showed that many species suffered to an extent and some endured very harsh times indeed. Notably, small-bodied birds, such as wrens, goldcrests, pied wagtails and long-tailed tits, fared extremely badly. In fact the numbers of goldcrest – Britain’s smallest bird – were hit in almost all locations. Fortunately, the populations of these birds recovered and the long-tailed tit – thanks to a combination of a run of relatively milder winters and garden-birdfeeding – is enjoying good times as it is now one of our most familiar garden birds.”


1947 certainly was not as cold as the infamous winter of 1963, but that was largely because the first few weeks were relatively mild.


UK Mean temperature - Winter


What the winters of 1947 and 1963 show is just how variable Britain’s weather is, both on a year to year basis, and even week to week.

The idea that there is a “normal” winter climate, or that we have different winters to the past, simply is not borne out by the facts.

Whatever underlying global warming signal there may be, it is drowned out by the weather.



Chris Packham is well known as an extreme eco-nut.

It is noteworthy then that he points out how much wildlife suffered in 1947. Not to mention the fact that some birds are thriving because of a string of recent mild winters.

  1. January 27, 2017 3:35 pm

    In 1947 my parents lived on the edge of the peak district in an old stone cottage. My father loved recounting how he walked to the village shop by following the tops of the telegraph poles. I can recall the winter of 63 – they were exciting times to be a young boy with lots of spare time and no worries.

  2. dennisambler permalink
    January 27, 2017 3:50 pm

    I was born in the winter of ’47 but I can’t remember how deep the snow was.

    • A C Osborn permalink
      January 27, 2017 4:08 pm

      I was born 17th January 1947 and I can’t remember it either.
      But I do remember heavy snow in around 53, cycling 4 miles to work in the winter of 63 and driving to work after very heavy snow in South Wales in the 70s (can’t remember the exact year), like your dad my boss walked home on the snow on top of the cars due to the snow drifting off the field over the hedges on to the roads.

      • A C Osborn permalink
        January 27, 2017 4:15 pm

        I also seem to remember heavy snow in Kent and riding to work in 67 or 68 as well.
        The Ruts from the cars in the Ice were very tricky to negotiate on the hills.

  3. 1saveenergy permalink
    January 27, 2017 4:37 pm

    In Cardiff the snow drifted to halfway up the bedroom windows, my father was trapped in the steelworks for 3 or 4 days before walkways were dug, meanwhile my mother had to dig a tunnel from the back door to the outside toilet & coal house… while heavily pregnant with me,
    Electricity was rationed for essential services a the railways couldn’t supply the power stations with coal.
    Apparently the gas street light outside the front bedroom was the only lighting for a week after the candles ran out (gas-lighting had been removed from the house in 1946) & they had this newfangled electricity. (if only they’d had solar pv !!!)

    Ah the good old days

  4. Mike Jackson permalink
    January 27, 2017 4:41 pm

    Ah, yes! I remember it well.

    My aunt had to lodge with friends for a week because the road was blocked and she couldn’t get home. Another aunt was the local district nurse and had to struggle through drifts to deliver at least two babies. Fortunately local farmers were on hand to help — her, not the mothers!

    Eventually the ploughs cleared a single track across the moor. The snow was certainly piled higher than the side of the bus and reports of drifts 12 feet deep don’t strike me as an exaggeration.

    I drove from Leicester to Northumberland for my grandfather’s funeral in February ’63 and don’t recall it at the time as anything dramatic. Which just goes to show even in 16 years how much vehicles and other kit had improved. Cold, yes, but the main roads were clear.

    The worst part (days before screen washers were standard!) was Wetherby-Selby where they were busy dualling the A1. All my life, it seems, has been tied up with road works at Wetherby. I’m convinced they use that stretch as a training ground!

    • David Ashton permalink
      January 27, 2017 5:12 pm

      Although 1963 was colder than 1947, at least in Lancashire, the snow was not as deep. I was born in March 1947 so don’t remember, but do remember the stories my father told me about taking a sled down to the River Mersey, four miles away, to buy food supplies which were brought up from Liverpool by barge, trucks couldn’t reach our village.He was out of work because of the snow. The snow in 1963 was not deep but was on the ground from Boxing Day 1962 until mid March.

  5. January 27, 2017 5:04 pm

    I was 8 in the winter of 1947 and I remember waling to and from Ocker Hill Spring street school and jumping in and out of the snowdrifts. At the end of our road ,opposite the pub (now Shippys) there was a drift about 8 feet high that we used to tunnel in. As I recall, a very warm spring,early summer followed and we were swimming in the local canals quite early on.

    The 63 winter, I was a river pollution officer in Lincolnshire and the River Ancholme was frozen for about 10 weeks. To get my regular samples I had to walk to the middle of the river, smash the ice with a sledgehammer and drop the sampler through. Most sampling points were out in the wilds some distance from the nearest house. I am not sure that ‘elf and safety had been invented then. I also remember the first night of the snows driving my Anglia Super from Boston over the Caistor High Road across the wolds to Brigg and smahing through the drifts as they formed on the road. Eeee that were fun!!!! Climate change..what a load of old codswallop. Winter ain’t done yet.

    • John Palmer permalink
      January 27, 2017 5:16 pm

      Anglia Super eh! Was it the really posh two-tone paintwork job with the surging 1200cc engine?
      Happy times indeed. We were all in year 6 of Grammar School in ’63 and were never really inconvenienced in our romantic or educational (sometimes – happily combined!) ventures – ‘cos we had our bikes.

      • Adam Gallon permalink
        January 30, 2017 9:31 am

        My mum had one of those, dark red over cream!

  6. January 27, 2017 5:10 pm

    To comment on Chris Packham…..I think he genuinely believes as does Prince Charles in the myth of climate change. He is a well qualified and experienced ecologist but perhaps does not understand the fashions for new environmental “causes”. To understand scientific fashions one has to be a sceptic…in fact all scientists should be sceptics at heart.

    • Tom Dowter permalink
      January 28, 2017 1:13 am

      I totally agree that all scientists should have a degree of scepticism in their make-up. However, it does need to be an informed scepticism. Criticising a theory which one does not undertsand is rarely helpful.

      There is far too much counterfactual “information” on both sides of the climate debate.

      • Athelstan permalink
        January 28, 2017 6:52 am

        doubter or dowter, either way you’re a plank.

      • Mike Jackson permalink
        January 28, 2017 11:45 am

        Tom, those of us without a scientific education but for whom the extreme global warming theories of the 1990s did not pass the “sniff test” had to do a lot of work before we got to where we are now.

        I spent a lot of time on some of the fairly basic physics I had forgotten, for example, not to mention trying to find as much data as I could on why and how the earth was suddenly heading down a slippery slope because of an increase in an essential trace gas which I knew from my own readings had been in much higher concentrations in the past and why a barely measurable increase in earth’s temperature had any sort of potential to lead to catastrophe.

        I was helped in this journey by three things:

        I had lived through the global-cooling scare of the 70s which was real, in spite of all the best efforts of those who believed in it then (and now prefer to deny it) to convince us otherwise — and it didn’t take long to find that the cooling scaremongers and the now warming scaremongers were in many cases the same people.

        The entire edifice was built purely on a totally unproven hypothesis supported solely by computer models and by loud and unremitting propaganda by the environmental establishment (WWF, FoE, Greenpeace, et al) which in itself was fairly convincing evidence that it was a crock of shit — my run-ins over decades with assorted green activists and their penchant for self-righteous mendacity is on record in various places.

        Finally, the behaviour of the climate establishment which is markedly similar (surprise, surprise!) to that of the environmental establishment — never admit any doubt at all, never explain, never debate, play the man in preference to playing the ball. In short act all times like a spoiled brat caught with his hand in the cookie jar and who knows that in any sort of reasoned argument he will lose big. How else can you explain the urge to prosecute (and in one or two extreme cases, even execute) people who interpret a scientific hypothesis differently from the way you do?

        I agree with you about criticising a theory you don’t understand but global warming is not a theory, it is a fact, as is global cooling and both are natural. Anthropogenic global warming is merely a hypothesis and is so far bereft of anything resembling evidence (except at the margins which is only to be expected). Catastrophic anthropogenic global warming is a political construct which has no scientific basis at all. The 2° figure we must not exceed was more or less plucked out of the air 40 years go by William Nordhaus and has no particular relevance.

        To date I am still waiting for any empirical evidence that the current state of the planet is anything to worry about. When I see some I will act on it.

  7. John Palmer permalink
    January 27, 2017 5:10 pm

    Kwisss Packham an extreme eco-nut – you’re having a laugh surely! (sarcasm off).

  8. Edmonton Al permalink
    January 27, 2017 5:25 pm

    All that snow was caused by all the people jogging to keep warm and releasing all the CO2 into the atmosphere which caused Global Warming hence record snow.

  9. Svend Ferdinandsen permalink
    January 27, 2017 6:20 pm

    “Reports following the winter showed that many species suffered to an extent and some endured very harsh times indeed.”
    And i was told that GW (climate change now) would decimate many species.
    The decimation that winter was visible, how visible is the decimation because of the global warming now?

    • Graeme No.3 permalink
      January 27, 2017 9:30 pm

      The large Climate Eco-nut is listed as endangered, and may become extinct in a few years.

      • Adam Gallon permalink
        January 30, 2017 9:37 am

        No, they’re a highly adaptable species. They’ll morph, seamlessly, into another role. Signs are already there, Global Warming – Climate Change – Future Climate Disruption – Weather Weirding – Ocean Acidification.

  10. Stewart Judd permalink
    January 27, 2017 10:55 pm

    In 1947 I was a 12-year old schoolboy living in a small mining village in County Durham and the schools closed for six weeks! My brother and I spent our days tobogganing from around 9am to 5pm with a short break for lunch – what bliss!

  11. tom0mason permalink
    January 27, 2017 11:40 pm

    If only we used renewable energy during WWII all this would have been prevented?

    • AlexB permalink
      January 28, 2017 3:35 am

      That would make an interesting alt-history novel, if handled correctly.

  12. January 28, 2017 12:43 am

    I was 8 in the September of ’46, so remember the ’47 winter very well – the snow on the street where everyone walked compacted until is was a 1 foot thick sheet of ice. I remember seeing a photo in the News Chronicle of about a dozen house sparrows all perched on a high cast iron gate and all frozen stiff.

    One abiding memory is coming down one morning into the kitchen and seeing a ‘fantasy’ shape of snow spread across the kitchen floor. We had a worn old wooden threshold under the outside door into the kitchen and the wind through the night blew the snow across the kitchen floor and piled it against the kitchen cabinet doors opposite. It reached about 2 feet high and 4 feet wide and was the shape of one of those old gramophone horns, split in two length-ways, across a diameter.

    The ’63 winter holds more unpleasant memories. I was a fitter with the old NCB, working at Kellingley Colliery [it’s just closed] on the coal prep'[aration] plant. We had to fill every 40 gallon oil drums we could lay our hands on, with wood and fire them up in positions all over the plant to prevent water pipe lines from freezing. The smoke conditions in the vast [low-roofed] areas must have been at least 10X worse than any of the cities in China are experiencing at the moment.

    Glad to say I was in the last year of getting some decent engineering qualifications and 2 years later I was working for the Rolls-Royce nuclear reactor division.

  13. Athelstan permalink
    January 28, 2017 7:06 am

    Wasn’t there a significant Icelandic volcanic episode circa 1946/47?

    To my mind, something significant atmospheric event occurred, in order that the prevailing westerlies were prevented to, in influencing the UK climate, I would dearly love to see a series of pressure charts for that period over the UK when the ‘real winter’ arrived.

    As I’ve said before, we live at interesting latitude, 50º North is cold, surrounded by a cold ocean New Zealand has colder winters, BUT is nearer to the equator……. than is our island UK and on it’s [NZ] southern Island has permanent glaciers.
    Thus, would it not for the welcome transatlantic drift, the warmish winds which [usually blow] ‘heat’ our island even in the mid winter – Britain would have a very different climate and would suffer much differing climatic seasons if say we were not on the end of, the warm current NAD.
    What happened in 47, was not in the script – maybe, you never can tell.

    • tom0mason permalink
      January 28, 2017 7:58 am

      (from )
      VEI-4 Parícutin 1943–1952 The youngest volcano in the world. This volcano grew out of a corn field in Mexico and it was in a Mexican film named Paricutin. Scientists believe that this volcano is extinct even though it erupted once.

      VEI-4 Avachinsky[29] 1945
      VEI-4 Sarychev Peak[30] 1946
      VEI-4 Hekla[31] 1947

      (VEI) is Volcanic Explosivity Index (from )
      The scale is logarithmic from VEI 2 and up; an increase of 1 index indicates an eruption that is 10 times as powerful. VEI 0-2 are more problematic and might be viewed as arbitrary. An eruption above 4 is significant.

      • Athelstan permalink
        January 28, 2017 4:49 pm

        Thank you muchly for info.

        I think we could say that, pretty much there were some increase in upper atmosphere aerosols, we know well also that SO2 and particulates do affect, deflect Solar irradiance hitting the earth. However, what needs then to be considered and referenced is, how was the NH affected during the winter of 47?

        As other’s have noted on the above thread, the amounts of snow during the UK 47 winter episode were mind boggling [for youngsters at any rate] in amounts and depth, though winds blowing snow off the fields into large drifts must surely have been a significant/ big factor – of course.
        Was it a freak, no not to my mind but then I think centuries not decades……. there have been other snowy episodes in recent [folk] memory not least 62/63 as we have heard above.

        If I had the time and the access to resources [university libraries], very much I’d like to spend some time making a historical study of all of this [1947] because it all fascinates me, yuk and yuk…… though I really don’t like cold hard winters!

        Hmmm perhaps I’ll have to move south, though as you will know tomomason, we don’t have much idea as to how an ‘ice age’ is triggered, suffice to say that Geologically speaking we are due another, thus even moving as far south as Gibraltar was only just far enough way back circa ~ 11,000 years ago……………….. I can’t wait ;-O(((

  14. Ross King permalink
    January 28, 2017 4:29 pm

    Lincolnshire Wolds, 1947. I remember well walking in an elevated field, parallel to a lane in a deep cut. The telegraph poles followed the elevation of the road surface more-or-less. I could *just* see the tips of some of them, so the cut was filled-in to a depth of — what? — 20′.

  15. Eric Hutchinson permalink
    January 29, 2017 2:30 pm

    We lived in Horwich, a little town in Lancashire on the edge of the Pennines. I was five. I remember, vividly, waking up to find the snow up to the bedroom windowsills on one side of the house. Fortunately the other side was just about accessible with great difficulty.

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