Think we have had snow! You should have seen it in '63
APART from a couple of cold winters in recent years, most have been mild and wet rather than cold and snowy. Rainfall has made the news rather than snowfall.
The recent cold spell is timid when one looks back 50 years to an Arctic winter which gripped Britain for 11 weeks.
Yes, 1962-63 – the third coldest winter since records began in 1659 – is well remembered by those of us who are 60 or over.
As years go, 1962 was a chilly one and the first taste of what was to come arrived in the shape of 2in to 4in of snow and frosts in mid-November.
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Freezing fog blanketed Gloucestershire in early December with temperatures down to -7C (19F). It turned wet and stormy mid-month before the freezing air returned on the 22nd. Severe frost with lows of -8C on Christmas Day 1962 and then the fun started on Boxing Day.
A cold front parked up and delivered 3in to 6in of snow by midnight and then a full blizzard on the 29th/30th saw a further 4in to 6in which, driven by a strong easterly wind, formed drifts 10ft deep.
As 1963 dawned another 4in to 6in of snow fell on January 3.
By now, 12in to 18in lay and drifts were piling up 15ft deep or more. Villages on the Cotswolds were cut off, Bagpath, Hawkesbury Upton and Leighterton to name a few.
Temperatures plummeted following the snow and lakes, rivers and canals froze. Ice was reported to be 12in thick everywhere and freezing fog brought a further hazard.
Rime frost deposits were 1in thick on trees and power lines and motoring was a nightmare.
The A46 between Nailsworth and Stroud was almost impassable for three weeks and 400 sheep were buried in drifts in Coombe near Wotton-under-Edge.
The Severn iced over on the tidal section and three men walked across from Newnham to Arlingham and back with ice blocks 3ft high on the shoreline.
The Gloucester & Sharpness Canal froze over and, because it was a working canal, three steam tugs were brought out of retirement – the Iris, Primrose and Mayflower.
They acted as pilot tugs to keep traffic moving with ice shields fitted to them. Even with assistance the vessels often got stuck in the ice.
Temperatures under clear skies dropped to -15C (5F) and failed to get above freezing point by day between January 17 and 25.
The maximum on the 23rd was -7C (19F) at Stroud.
Football was abandoned all over the country with 420 league matches postponed.
February saw slightly better conditions with daytime temperatures climbing a few degrees above freezing but severe frosts were still evident at night. Another blizzard on the 5th brought 3in to 4in of fresh snow and, by now, five million cubic yards of snow had been removed from Gloucestershire's roads.
Rail transport was totally dislocated with steam locos replacing frozen diesels with limited services from Cheltenham and Bristol to London.
So intense was the cold that the overnight Newcastle to Bristol mail and passenger train was pulled up at Coaley Junction station because the water pipe from the tender to the engine was frozen. A fire was lit underneath the pipes and hot rags wrapped around them until they had thawed sufficiently to allow the train to continue its journey on to Temple Meads.
Finally, the thaw arrived on March 5 with the first frost-free night since December 21. The average temperature for 1962-63 panned out at -0.5C (31F). Only 1683 and 1740 were colder and, generally, it was the worst winter since 1947 but with less snow, though only just.