COLUMN: Weather Wise with Gordon Currie

Swans glide across a flooded field. (S)
Swans glide across a flooded field. (S)

More reflections from Gordon as the outstretched hand of spring looms, plus prospects for the week ahead.

Through silent aisles and twigs of lace

Winter shows its cruel face,

Springtime seems beyond perception –

This ice-world reigns in cold perfection;

Nature wrapped ‘mid earth so brown

Beneath this snowy eiderdown,

What pictures through our minds retrieve

In muslin shapes of last year’s leaves!

In dormant glades our thoughts do dwell

Each pathway has some tale to tell,

The stillness of this wonderland

Weakens Springtime’s out-stretched hand,

Smothered yet beneath the snow

Like a new-born child with far to go . . . . . .

As wintry winds begin to whistle through the expanding void within the farmyard’s storage barns, with silage stocks and heaps of round bale haylage beginning to look depleted, the old style writing is once again on the wall for every stock farmer in this traditional “hungry gap” period of February.

This winter, the vital supplies of provender are more critical than for many years due to the shortfalls of last year’s weather, and in many ways a tardy wintry February creates the image of the outstretched hand in so many different concepts in our spiritual yearning for the responsiveness of the land to warmer spring days.

Weather-wise, February seems to be a month of ill-repute in the minds of many people, for example, the word heatwave does not come into the meteorological vocabulary this month!

Having said that, however, the climate change enthusiasts are literally itching to claim the first temperature reading of 70F (21 C) before the end of the month. It has not happened yet, that honour goes to the first week of March (in 1948!). In fairness, 66 - 67F (19C-plus) came up as the month’s highest readings in the fabulous February of 1998, coupled with similar readings on the 28th, as far back as 1957.

Before getting too carried away on anything resembling a February heatwave, there could be more critical factors to consider this year. Accepting that we are well past the half-way mark of our present winter, the insinuation of Candlemas that we may expect still harder times before the spring, leads one into the exploration of winter’s behaviour, past and present.

Currently, the February fill-dyke reputation springs to everyone’s mind, not least the farmers’ minds, because we’ve seen more than enough dyke filling over the past ten months! However, this expression frequently causes a complete public exhortation of February’s weather, alluding not to the month’s allocation of rainfall but to the precipitation that has gone before, the snows of December and January.

The theory implies these snows are melted during the lengthening days of February, and so the dykes (equivalent to Yorkshire’s banked ditches or stells are filled with floodwater). The Victorian era was largely responsible for this traditional explanation, with the records of the 19th century revealing this factor much more clearly than during the 20th century, and especially, the latter half of the century.

Striking changes come to light when comparing the temperatures for December, January and February in the 19th century, the two former months being decidedly more snowy than during the 20th century.

This apparent change in the pattern of winter involving the incidence of snowfalls shifting from the earlier winter months to the later stages of the season can be proved by the comparisons of the countrywide mean winter temperatures for two thirty-year periods, from 1871-1900, and 1901-1930.

In the former period, December was decidedly colder, with a mean figure of 40F (4.5 C), a factor which inspired the artistic designs of snow-laden Victorian Christmas cards. The filling dykes of February with melting snows could certainly be borne out by the January and February springs of the late 1890s.

Coming to the second period, 1900-1930, December showed a mean temperature rise to 41.2F (5C). Similarly, January followed suit, warming up from 39.5F (4.1 C) to 40.7 F (4.8 C). Since 1930, the general trend for warmer and largely snowless Decembers seems to have continued with very few exceptions until the end of the century.

The apparent shift of snowy weather towards February has certainly been a feature throughout last century, with examples such as the great Teesdale snowstorm of February 1933, the blizzards of the 1940s’ Februarys, cold, snowy east wind Februarys of the 1950s and 1980s to quote just a few.

Strangely enough, a question mark now justifiably reigns over the winters since 2008, involving the severe December – January periods of 2009 and 2010, and possibly January 2013!

Might we see a return to the earlier winter snows of the Victorian century? Food for thought. Nevertheless, we may pray for this February’s drier dykes, in the knowledge that the direct northerly winds from the Arctic begin to have amazing evaporative qualities at this stage of the year, yielding the first hint of dry greyness on the ploughed fields, a tonic for every farmer, and one step towards grasping the outstretched hand of spring’s opportunity!


The current pressure pattern featuring high pressure situated over northern Scandinavia and the Russian Arctic, and Atlantic frontal systems trying to penetrate eastwards across the British Isles, will probably maintain its confrontational situation for another week. This will bring further low pressure centres sliding south-eastwards across the UK and interacting with cold Continental air on the eastern side of Britain, giving complications with rain and snow.

Further spells of wintry weather expected, with occasional sleet or snow at times. The greatest potential for snowfalls will be on the rising ground through the western Dales region and the North York Moors. Sunny spells will also occur with some drier, brighter days as pressure rises. Remaining generally cold, with day temperatures peaking towards 46F (8C) on sunnier days, but with overnight frosts down to 23F (-5 C). An eventual change to milder, more spring-like weather depends upon the behaviour of the Atlantic fronts, which, at the time of writing, looks negative rather than positive.