Originally Posted by nacho libre
Was there a major snow event in the South west of England during the winter of 1979?
Was going to leave the Winter 1978/79 historical post 'til a month later but I guess now is as good a time as any.
Winter 1978/79 was the coldest since 1962/63 at the time and it has not been beaten for most since by any succeeding Winters - 2009/10 was the coldest since 1978/79. It was the third coldest Winter of the 20th century behind only 1962-63 and 1946-47.
Of course, this was infamously known as the 'Winter of Discontent' and 2018/19 will be the 40th anniversary of this Winter. I hear this Winter mentioned a lot for the UK but rarely by Irish people, overshadowed by 1981/82 which happened a few years after? 1978-79 was so called the 'Winter of Discontent' because it was when there was an onset of widespread strikes by trade unions in the UK demanding larger pay rises following the ongoing pay caps of the Labour Party government led by James Callaghan against Trades Union Congress opposition to control inflation.
After a cool Summer with the coldest July of the 1970s, Autumn 1978 was very mild for much of the season (in fact the equal warmest of the century for the CET) with a lot of high pressure influence to the south of Ireland and the UK whilst in the north and over Scotland, it tended to be more unsettled especially in mid-September when the remnants of ex-hurricane Flossie brought gusts up to 104 mph in Fair Isle.
October 1978 was very dry with only 0.1mm of rainfall at Gravesend, Kent all month. Monthly rainfall totals for selected Irish stations during October 1978 with percentage of average rainfall if available:
Valentia Observatory - 59.6mm (42%)
Dublin Airport - 31.9mm (51%)
Galway (University College) - 48.8mm
Shannon Airport - 46.6mm (54%)
Ardee (Boharnamoe) - 26.2mm
Kilkenny - 34.7mm (41%)
Mullingar - 41.9mm (46%)
November 1978 would continue the mild theme for much of the month with very dull and dry conditions too. It was the dullest November on record at Valentia Observatory (since its records began in 1880) at the time with only 54% of the average November sunshine, this would later be beaten by an exceptionally dull November in 1983. Up to November 23rd, November 1978 was at a CET of 10.4c. To compare, the warmest November on record for the CET is 1994 with a CET of 10.1c, showing just how warm the period November 1st-23rd 1978 was by November standards.
With all this very mild weather in the Autumn of 1978 (far warmer than Summer 1978 in terms of anomalies from average), one must have wondered when Winter would start showing its hand or if there even was going to be a Winter. 1976-77 was a front loaded Winter with a cold December and start to January whilst a very mild and wet February. 1977-78 was the opposite pretty much with a severe cold spell and blizzard during February 1978 though even February had a mild start and end.
The pattern changed somewhat in the last week of November. High pressure built over Greenland and northeastern Canada sending a cold front southwards down the UK and Ireland on 24th November veering winds into a cold northwesterly behind the front. Once the low pushed eastwards into Scandinavia on the 25th/26th, the winds turned more to a northerly bringing air straight down from Arctic origins. There was a few outbreaks of wintry and even snow showers to the north of Ireland, Scotland and the east of the UK. Depths between 5-20cm of snow were reported in these regions especially in northwestern Scotland and Northern Ireland. Between the 26th-28th, high pressure from the northwest and west exerted influence over Ireland leading to severe frost but dry conditions with freezing fog. Over west Munster, some rain belts brought relatively milder conditions on these days compared to most of the country.
Winds veered more southeasterly on the 29th and 30th as Atlantic rain belts pushed eastwards and there was a gradual rise in temperature. The UK remained very cold 'til the start of December though still under the influence of a cold easterly wind.
Minimum temperatures recorded in this late November 1978 spell:
Mepal, Cambridgeshire at -11.5c on the 30th
Oak Park, Co. Carlow at -5.3c on the 28th
Mallow, Co. Cork at -3.5c on the 28th
Glenties, Co. Donegal at -4.5c on the 28th
Dublin Airport, Co. Dublin at -2.4c on the 28th
Lucan, Co. Dublin at -5.4c on the 28th
Lullymore, Co. Kildare at -6.1c on the 28th (including a grass minima of -12.2c)
Kilkenny, Co. Kilkenny at -6.0c on the 28th
Ballinamore, Co. Leitrim at -5.0c on the 28th
Ardee (Boharnamoe), Co. Louth at -6.5c on the 28th
Dunsany, Co. Meath at -5.5c on the 28th
Birr, Co. Offaly at -5.4c on the 28th
Not quite November 2010 standard but still very good by November standards.
December 1978 was a pretty unusual month. Overall, temperatures were close to average for most though Scotland was on the quite cold side. The month was dominated by a battleground scenario with the Atlantic bringing in plenty of wet conditions at the same time as easterlies tried to bring in cold weather. This battleground led to a very wet month for most places. At Dublin Airport, it was and still is the wettest month on record with a rainfall total of 217.0mm of rain. The closest to this since was December 2015 at 193.5mm. Killarney (Muckross House), Co. Kerry had 5 five days with 25mm or more during December 1978 and two of these days had 50mm or more including 64.0mm on the 6th. Northern Ireland had its wettest December on record since records began in 1900 - until December 2015. England & Wales had their wettest December since 1934. Persistent heavy rain caused extensive flooding over Ireland and the UK with the worst floods since 1947 recorded in York. The River Ouse was nearly 5m above its normal latter. In Silent Valley, Co. Down, 214.3mm fell in a 48-hour period ending at 0900 GMT on the 27th December 1978. Whilst 205.5mm fell at West Baldwin Reservoir, Isle of Man during the same period. The periods around the 4th to 6th and then again around Christmas were particularly wet.
In contrast to all of the above, northwestern Scotland had around only 20-25% of its average December rainfall which is normally among the wettest places in an average month so something was seriously up here.
December 1978 had the potential to be an exceptionally snowy month but the blocking to the north and easterlies just weren't strong enough to win the battle against the Atlantic - until the end of the month. If the forums had been around during this month, think there'd be a lot of frustration and disappointment. As they say though, patience is a virtue!
Fairly typical chart for December 1978 on the 13th:
Now, the fun begins here. You're about to witness one of the most epic Winter spells of the 20th century. This is THE week people mainly remember Winter 1978-79 for when you hear it mentioned. From the 28th December 1978 onwards, a strong east to northeasterly airstream became the dominance over the UK and Ireland with temperatures progressively getting colder. It took a bit longer to get to the south of the UK as mild southwesterlies were apparent here until the 30th along with more heavy rain. But when it changed, it was absolutely amazing! In this easterly flow, there was frequent snow showers almost everywhere and even blizzards especially on New Year's Eve though the west of Ireland had somewhat lighter showers. Snow depths on the 31st December and 1st January were up to 15-25cm widely whilst gale force easterly winds led to drifting of up to 2m even as far south as southwestern England (the second time in a year that the region had a blizzard then - the other was in February 1978. This period must have been a godsend for snow lovers in the southwest of England). This was the first New Year blizzard since 1962 and up to 2017 is the most recent New Year blizzard. According to Met Éireann's Snowfall in Ireland PDF, snowfall depths at Irish stations during this spell included 26cm at Casement Aerodrome, 16cm at Claremorris and 15cm at Cork Airport. Remember these were official stations so there would have been much larger depths in rural regions.
All the floodwaters froze from this spell and the 1st/2nd January featured frosts of unusual severity especially in Ireland. Lullymore, Co. Kildare had an air minimum temperature of -18.8c on 2nd January 1979. This was the lowest air temperature in Ireland during the 20th century and the second lowest known on record in the country behind -19.1c at Markree Castle, Co. Sligo during an even more epic cold spell in January 1881. The closest we've seen since to this temperature in January 1979 was -17.5c at Straide, Co. Mayo on 25th December 2010. Other very low temperatures recorded include:
-14.1c at Kilkenny, Co. Kilkenny on the 2nd (air minimum)
-19.5c at Lullymore, Co. Kildare on the 2nd (grass minimum - a new grass minimum record for Ireland which was later beaten in January 1982)
-5.8c at Lullymore, Co. Kildare on the 1st (air maximum, the lowest in Ireland since December 1882)
-15.5c at Oak Park, Co. Carlow on the 2nd (air minimum)
-7.4c at Shannon Airport, Co. Clare on the 1st (air minimum)
-10.1c at Mallow, Co. Cork on the 1st (air minimum)
-12.4c at Casement Aerodrome, Co. Dublin on the 1st (air minimum)
-8.1c at Dublin Airport, Co. Dublin on the 1st (air minimum)
-5.6c at Valentia Observatory, Co. Kerry on the 1st (air minimum)
-15.2c at Ardee (Boharnamoe), Co. Louth on the 1st (air minimum)
-10.0c at Claremorris, Co. Mayo on the 1st (air minimum)
-16.0c at Dunsany, Co. Meath on the 1st (air minimum)
-14.9c at Mullingar, Co. Westmeath on the 1st (air minimum); -14.6c was recorded on the 2nd
-6.2c at Malin Head, Co. Donegal on the 1st (air minimum)
The severe frosts were as a result of very clear conditions and deep snow cover on the ground. Perfect Winter days on 1st/2nd January 1979 with light winds, snow cover and blue skies.
In terms of the UK, -17.5c was recorded at Magherally, Co. Down on January 1st which was the record low for Northern Ireland for any month before December 2010. Parts of Cornwall struggled below freezing all day on the 1st including Stithians having a maximum of only -4c all day and an overnight minimum around -16c which was a new record for Cornwall.
What a chart for 31st December 1978!
Now some pictures from this spell:
These first two pictures were taken in Ireland during the first few days of January 1979.
A snow scene at Marazion Station, Cornwall on New Years Day 1st January 1979 as a Class 47 heads an express, possibly the Cornishman to Leeds and Bradford. Credit: Roger Winnen
TheWeatherOutlook shared some UK weather photos from this Winter here: https://www.theweatheroutlook.com/tw...ype=bg&id=1625
It was the coldest January overall since 1963 with a CET of -0.4c and this was the last time (up to 2018 at least when writing this) January had a CET under 0c. Out of the three Winter months, January is the most overdue for a subzero CET month as the last time December had a subzero CET was 2010 and the last time February had a subzero CET was 1986.
It became less cold during the middle and latter part of the first week though there was a prolonged period of snowfall in the Channel Isles on the 4th/5th but conditions continued to be dry and frosty. The weather became fairly changeable from there on with generally milder weather. However, it was still colder than average for the most part with further severe frosts at times. Some heavy snowfalls occurred widespread on the 9th-10th, 19th-20th, 25th and 28th-29th. In the strong winds, these snowfalls tended to drift. It was the snowiest January since 1963.
A ridge of high pressure built in on the 12th to 14th January 1979 bringing more very low temperatures to the UK and Ireland. Carnwath, Strathclyde recorded a minimum temperature of -24.6c on 13th January which was the lowest for any month in the UK since 1955 at the time and the second lowest since 1895. On the same night, Claremorris, Co. Mayo recorded an air minimum of -10.3c whilst Clones, Co. Monaghan recorded -11.2c.
It was a sunny January for most and the sunniest in 20 years (since 1959) whilst Torbay, Torquay had its sunniest January on record since records began in 1898 with 105.1 hours of sunshine. This meant the station had an average of 3.4 hours of sunshine per day.
February 1979 continued the cold Winter with a CET of 1.2c making it the coldest February in 10 years (since 1969). Ireland and the south of the UK tended to alternate between mild and cold during the month whilst the north was locked into cold through the majority of the period. A front on the 7th February pushed northwards leading to rain over most of Ireland, England and Wales but this turned to snow over northern England. This was pushed back southwards as a ridge from an anticyclone to the north extended south-southeastwards over the North Sea with further fronts becoming stuck over the southwest of the country. The 8th/9th February 1979 was a very cold night for parts with Lagganlia, Highlands of Scotland recording a minima of -16.4c on this night.
A strong easterly flow developed on the 14th dropping temperatures back to well below average including subzero daytime temperatures and heavy snowfalls.
Snowfall depths during the 14th-16th easterly again accumulating to 50cm in parts of northern England though strong winds led to deep drifts. East Anglia had between 20-30cm. Buxton, Norwich and Great Yarmouth were all cut off.
Glenties, Co. Donegal got down to a minimum of -9.7c on the night of February 15th/16th. Other temperature observations from Irish stations during the period:
|Station||Maximum temperature||Minimum temperature||Date|
|Birr||-0.2||-5.8||15 February 1979|
|Kilkenny||-1.6||-5.7||15 February 1979|
|Mullingar||-0.6||-5.8||15 February 1979|
The last week of February 1979 was rather milder as an anticyclone developed over both countries by the 23rd. The south Midlands of England reached a mean sea level pressure observation of 1045mb on February 25th. The meteorological Winter season ended on a benign note.
CETs for different periods of the Winter:
27th Nov-1st Dec; -0.6
31st Dec-6th Jan; -2.9
21st-28th Jan; -1.7
14th-18th Feb; -1.8
The CET maximum
for 31st December 1978 was only -2.4c making it the coldest New Year's Eve in terms of CET maxima known on record (records back to 1878).
That wasn't the end of the Winter though as the rest of the first half of 1979 continued colder than average including a notable cold spell for the time of year in May. It was a very wet Spring mind you.
Data comes from the UK Met Office & Met Éireann.