COLUMN: Weather Wise with Gordon Currie

Have we seen the last of the snow for this year?
Have we seen the last of the snow for this year?

This week, Gordon asks when did we stop coping with the snow and also gives prospects for the week ahead:

Foul weather is no news;

Hail, rain and snow

Are now expected, and

Esteemed no woe;

Nay, ‘tis an omen bad,

The yeomen say,

If Phoebus shows his face

The second day. (Candlemas lore.)

In view of the weather conditions that have preceded Candlemas Day (February 2) this year, we seem to be approaching this festival with a certain amount of trepidation. The introductory words I have quoted were written in a country almanac for 1676 and undoubtedly, they underline our feelings towards the climate of England at the present time. It is interesting to note the accepted moral discipline expressed in the first four lines of this ancient wisdom, the sheer acceptability of the weather’s worst elements, which, of course, not only in 1676, but 2013, we can do nothing about.

Now that the paranoia created by the recent school closures and their associated complexities of difficulties has largely died down, we could do worse than ask ourselves: what has gone wrong with our national inability to cope with snow? It may be fair to accept that the deepest levels of snow possibly exceeded 12in in some parts of the country–oh, sorry, that should be 30cm in 2013 speak! However, to put it bluntly, any weather statistician will tell you that the snow events of this January were no where near the parallels of the classical smoking blizzards of January 1940.

I use the term “smoking” because on the 16th and 17th, and again on the 26th - 28th, wind-driven snows literally rose like smoke from the ground and mingled with the blinding falls, mounting up to between 24 and 36in across northern England. Severe frosts accompanied the onset of these blizzards, with the lowest temperatures fragmenting the smallest flakes into something which could only be described as crystalised fine sand, making it impossible to face in the strong winds.

Roadside hedgerows completely disappeared beneath mountainous drifts, totally obliterating the normal identity of the countryside. The sandy nature of the driven snow found its way beneath the pan-tiles of old country farm houses (ours included), filling the attic floors with a covering of between 2-3in. Nothing could be done about this, until the thaw arrived and water dripped through the bedroom ceilings, being contained within a variety of white enamelled dishes.

My childhood memories are photographic concerning the prolificacy of snowfalls in those wartime winters, 1940, 1941 and 1942, but life was endured! Amazingly, in terms of what we have heard recently, how on earth did we survive? There were no colour-coded snow warnings in those days, in fact, no weather information whatsoever, due to the wartime security blackout. Cars and buses clanked their way along drifted, unsalted roads with chains on their wheels. More poignantly, our Great Smeaton Primary School never closed. There is one very colourful memory to prove this, when one day in January 1940, our lone headteacher’s late arrival at school was greeted by a raucous, full complemented classroom of children, having been left to their own devices, warm and dry with the caretaker’s blazing fire.

Smothered head-to-foot in snow following her two-and-a-half mile footslog from East Cowton railway station, she disappeared rather quickly into the cloakroom, subsequently returning with a voluminous pair of bloomers which she flung over the fireguard to dry.

Amusingly, our routine concentration of the morning’s multiplication tables was distracted by observing the little plumes of steam arising from the garment over the fireguard. Little did we realise we were re-enacting the wartime slogan: keep calm and carry on!

Returning to this year, by the time these notes appear on the final day of January, we may hopefully rejoice at the vision of green winter landscapes once again. Perhaps it could be argued that there is a certain significance about reaching the final day of any month through the year, but those with practical farming instincts seem to share a psychological achievement, verging on the victorious.

The farm implements still play the waiting game, but the feel of the sun rays, especially following a long, dragging sunless period through January, arouses the first inclinations towards the soil’s calling. Granted, we cannot deny that sometimes the exhilarated feelings on January’s final day can prove to be a hollow victory. Our winters do demonstrate the repeated manifestations of huge North Atlantic weather frontiers clashing with those of the Russian Steppes, reminding us of the words spoken by Emperor Nicholas I of Russia when he declared: “Russia has two generals in whom she can confide, Generals Janvier and Fevrier!”

Last Sunday, we witnessed the retreat of General Janvier with such colourful panoramic scenery from Ripon across the Vale of York with the achievement of our favourite winter westerlies bringing such kaleidoscopic light and liberation, as fragmented rainbows known as “ weather galls” brilliantly illuminated the Pennine skyline, which, in turn contrasted with fresh greenery of the wheat fields emerging from beneath the folds of snow.

Where indeed would we be, without our appreciations of the changing country dweller’s scenery?

From the very depths of winter’s snow just days ago, the acknowledgement of spiritual faith comes with January’s rapid thaw, bringing a new perspective on our lengthening daylight.

Maybe, on this month’s final day, traditionally marking winter’s half-way point, we could leave the final word to the wisdom of old Candlemas Day: “If on February 2 the geese find it wet, the sheep will have grass on March 25.”

PROSPECTS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD

The current very strong surge of North Atlantic cyclonic activity has already registered near-record low pressure centres, down to 931 millibars in mid-Atlantic, emphasising the sheer pent-up energy of the atmosphere, having been blocked for so long through January. However, the trend will be for the Atlantic activity to lose its vigour by the end of this week, with a likely plunge of colder northerlies coming down behind the last depression of the present series. Pressure will rise over the weekend, but the colder intervention is expected to be only temporary, with the Atlantic staging another onslaught later in the week.

Becoming drier and colder for the weekend, with sunny spells and scattered wintry showers, giving light snowfalls over high ground. Slow changes to less cold weather next week, with rain from the west in late week, preceded by some snow. Day temperatures below normal, 37 - 39F (3 - 4C) with keen overnight frosts and possible fog patches 25F (-4C). A gradual rise of temperature later in the week.