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Feb 1978 and the Great West Country Blizzard


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Posted
  • Location: Irlam
  • Location: Irlam

The Great West Country Blizzard of February 1978 affected the SW of the UK and ranks as one of the worst snowstorms to hit the UK.

February 1978 was a cold month as high pressure was to the north and east blocked Atlantic systems from moving across the UK.

Rrea00119780209.gif

On the 15th, the first occluded front approached the SW producing a SEly gale for the West Country and this produced heavy snowfalls. The front stalled as it could not overcome the very cold airmass over the UK.

Rrea00119780216.gif

On the 18th, the next occlusion moved close to the SW and this tightened the SEly flow across the SW producing gales and blizzard conditions. By the 19th, a small low accompanied the occlusion drew in very mild air from Biscay and the huge temperature contrast between the very mild air and the very cold continental air produced copious amounts of snow. The front was expected to move right across the south but stalled over the SW. By late on the 19th, 34cm of level snow was reported at Cardiff and Exeter airports with drifts of over 8m, the greatest level snow depth was recorded at Nettlescomb, Somerset with 85cm. Enormous drifts over the moors blocked scores of roads paralysing the transport network in the SW. The worst affected areas were Somerset, Devon and Dorset, these areas had level snow depths >30cm. The counties of south Wales, Wiltshire, Avon and western Hampshire and the Isle of Wight recorded between 10-30cm of level snow. Most of the low ground of Cornwall had rain.

Rrea00119780219.gif

On the 20th, the milder air finally arrived

Data for February 1978

CET: 2.8 (-0. :rolleyes:

8th-21st February: -0.4

Photos

http://www.eclipse.co.uk/wradmore/bradninc...ow/highstrt.JPG

http://www.eclipse.co.uk/wradmore/bradninc...now/helerd1.JPG

http://www.wsr.org.uk/images/snow1978/03.jpg

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Posted
  • Location: Brixton, South London
  • Location: Brixton, South London

Thanks Kevin for that: as usual informative, interesting, well researched and clearly written.

I was a 17 yrd old at a boarding school in Wellington West Somerset at that time (west Somerset/east Devon were the worst affected areas) and well remember the excitement this blizzard caused: not least because loy lying areas of west Somerset rarely seemed to see any severe wintry weather) indeed from the winter of 73/74 to February 78 I can only recall lying (frontal) snow in January 77 and freezing rain in (I think) January 76. We were too far to the south west and under the influence of warm sectors to get much frontal snow, easterlies were almost always entirely dry by the time they reached us and we were protected by the moors/hills of Exmoor/the Quantocks from snow showers from the north or north west.

I think it is perhaps worth noting that immediately before the snowfalls of February 78 we experienced a prolonged period of frosty/foggy anticyclonic weather with maxima on 1 or 2 days close to freezing. This meant that not only was the ground unusually cold but the denser cold surface air was able to withstand a remarkable number of attempts by quite vigorous depressions to break through: as you say they stalled/dumped snow retreated and left very cold clear anticyclonic conditions with minimal snow melt until the Great Blizzard struck with severe gales in places and some spectaclar drifting: at one stage Somerset was entirely snow bound and cut off from the rest of the UK (only the steam-hauled West Somerset railway running between Bishops' Lydeard to Watchet was able carry provisions other than by helicopter).

One fact that I had not realised was that the anticyclonic blocking to our east although remarkably resilient was however relatively weak in terms of surface pressure.

When the thaw came I noticed severe advection fog as the mild air passed over the snow fields.

Regards

ACB

Edited by acbrixton
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Posted
  • Location: Edmonton Alberta(via Chelmsford, Exeter & Calgary)
  • Weather Preferences: Sunshine and 15-25c
  • Location: Edmonton Alberta(via Chelmsford, Exeter & Calgary)

i was 11 and lived in exeter in feb 78...i remember b4 the snow came we had a few days of intermitent snow showers but nothin too serious...on the 15th i went 2 school in pouring rain..it rain all day..by home time it was still raing but by the time i had got home the rain was slowly turning to sleet and by 6 it was a heavy wet snow... i watched the bbc weather tht evening hoping a forcast of heavy snow etc...but they only forcast possibilty of sleet ova dartmoor...even though by now it was snowing heavily outside and beginning to settle....by bedtime there was a fair covering..and by the next morning it was clear sunny and cold with a deep lyer of snow.

ove the next cpl days it snowed on 2 occasions as fronts tried and failed to break thru..by saturday they were forecasting blizzrds by lunchtime.

this time they were spot on...and all afternoon evening and nite it blew a gale and snowed like i never seen snow b4 or since..by the following morning my dads cortina was completly buried and we couldnt open our back door...as was our back fence which was nearly 8ft high.

somethin i always remember is walkin up our street in the teeth of the blizzard it stings u face like hell...like little needles...all good fun tho!!

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Posted
  • Location: Warminster, Wiltshire
  • Location: Warminster, Wiltshire
I love that 16th Feb 1978 chart. I don't remember it myself. Although my Dad rushed through cold rain and snow (his words) to get into the hospital on time for my mum going into labour. Only for him to pass out with the contrast of cold going into the heat. Or so he tells me. Then I popped out. No wonder I love snow and cold!

:whistling: so you're 12 days older than me then Robbie.

There was also snow about on 28th Feb when I was born. There hadn't been

proper snow on my birthday from then until this year! I've heard a lot from my

family about that February, it's down in local folklore.

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  • 1 year later...
Posted
  • Location: Ossett, West Yorkshire
  • Location: Ossett, West Yorkshire

February 1978 definitely made that winter one of the better winters of the 1970s, the cold spell occurring in an overall average winter, and it had started the trend of the largely cold winters from 1977-87, this started by us starting to get some better winters by 1976-77. The preceding January in 1978 certainly was reasonable for many areas and even good by today's standards with some good cold zonality and certainly was a cold month in Scotland with heavy snow there late in the month.

It certainly was an impressive cold easterly spell with ice days in many areas at times in the middle two weeks that were intensely cold and there was fairly widespread snowfall, with a phenomenal blizzard in the south-west on the 18th/19th.

February 1978 CET Trackometer:

01. 4.6

02. 4.8

03. 3.9

04. 3.9

05. 4.2

06. 4.4

07. 4.2

08. 3.9

09. 3.3

10. 2.8

11. 2.3

12. 1.9

13. 1.7

14. 1.6

15. 1.5

16. 1.5

17. 1.4

18. 1.3

19. 1.2

20. 1.1

21. 1.1

22. 1.3

23. 1.6

24. 1.9

25. 2.1

26. 2.4

27. 2.6

28. 2.8 (2.775*C)

It certainly was an intense cold spell from the 8th to 21st (-0.4), but as the blocking high slipped SE on the 22nd a very mild SW'ly spell lasted through the last week with maxima in double figures and so the coldness of the month overall became less outstanding. This month nevertheless set the scene and gave many of us a taste of what was to dominate the following winter in 1978-79!

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Posted
  • Location: just south of Doncaster, Sth Yorks
  • Location: just south of Doncaster, Sth Yorks

yes I was at the Met O college just outside Reading on the second of my forecasting courses, from december through to the end of February, so we were not much affected except that two colleagues from the south west, one from Plymouth and another from the Salisbury Plain area had trouble getting back to college after the weekend at home. In fact the one from Plymouth was about 2 days late if I recall correctly.

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Posted
  • Location: South Shields Tyne & Wear half mile from the coast.
  • Location: South Shields Tyne & Wear half mile from the coast.

I remember that event very well. It was my late grandparents 50th wedding anniversary, no snow

when we went into the party about 8" deep when we left (bout 4 hrs later), everything came to a standstill

my parents have some photo's, i'll see if i can dig em out.

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As one poster mentioned on TWO relating to this thread, it may aswell have taken palce 3000 years ago let alone 30 years ago, seeing as how quickly the climate has warmed and continues to warm in such as short space of time. My favourite section of this site as the past is alot better than the present within weather and climate terms and you could say in other terms also,maybe.

Edited by Mike W
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Posted
  • Location: ilminster Somerset
  • Location: ilminster Somerset

yes ,remember it well ,absolute chaos as they did,nt bother to grit the roads before it snowed and after it froze and then they came out with snowploughs to open up the main roads,this had the effect of compacting it down making every road and path like a skating rink, as i walked to work the next morning there were cars and trucks slipping and sliding ,people struggling and falling over then when i arrived at work they sent us home because the heating oil had frozen

as for the seventies,,,they were crap mass unemployment on the brink of recesssion stikes ect, apart from the long hot summer of 76 and punk rock

Edited by blackdown
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  • 13 years later...
Posted
  • Location: Yeovil, Somerset
  • Location: Yeovil, Somerset

I remember this event very well. The very cold weather arrived on the 9th of February and continued till the 21st. On the 19th of February the level snow was about 50cm with drifts up to 20 feet. Our village was cut off from Saturday evening till the following Wednesday. It was the deepest snow i have witnessed. That year i was 13 years old and had moved to Odcombe in 1973. living on the lower crossroads for 4 years then Broadway Higher Odcombe in 1977

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