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Weather-history

The severe winter of 1978-79

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The coldest winter since 1962-63. The CET for the winter was 1.6C

The first cold spell of this winter began in the last week of November. The autumn of 1978 had been very mild and fairly dry and November 1978 was very mild up to the 24th.

A change happened in the weather pattern with a cold NWly flooding the UK behind a cold front.

As the low transferred into Scandinavia, the wind direction changed into an even colder northerly.

These winds initally brought snow showers to the north and west but as the wind shifted direction the showers transferred to eastern areas.

By the 27th, winds had fallen light and this allowed severe frosts and in places freezing fog to form and this continued to the end of November.

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December

Pressure was high over Scandinavia but this was insufficent to stop Atlantic systems from slowly moving into the west.

On the 2nd, the front was into the western mainland and ahead of the system from the Midlands northwards there were snowfalls.

The next day, the milder air had moved right across the country. Over the UK, the weather for mid December was mild and cyclonic.

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On the 16th, high pressure began to build to the west and north of the UK allowing colder NElies to come across the UK.

It became drier, colder, frostier and the freezing fog patches returned.

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The high slipped into Europe and this allowed a cold continental flow to come across southern parts with some light snow on the 20th.

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Gradually the UK lost the continental flow as more vigorous lows moved into the SW. This heralded a wet Xmas for most places with fronts straggled across the UK.

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Pressure was high to the north of the UK and this gradually pushed southwards in the run up to the New Year, By the 28th, it become very cold across Scotland with snow and easterly winds and this spread south so by the 30th,

it was very cold everywhere with snow, easterly winds and sub-zero maxima.

Rrea00119781231.gif

January

The New Year began white and very cold in many places. Maxima in a number of places was just -5C.

A small low slipped southwards on the 1st giving heavy snowfalls to the NW of England and NW Midlands.

Pressure built temporarily over central parts allowing some very cold minima, -16C at Burton-upon-Trent and freezing fog which lingered in a number of places to form.

In the extreme south, the easterlies freshened again as a low moved into the Bay of Biscay. This gave fresh snowfalls to the Channel Islands and drifting snow.

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Pressure began to fall across Iceland and the fronts moved into the NW bringing milder air to all parts on the 7th. The mild interlude was short lived as cold NWlies returned to the north on the 8th and by the 10th, it was cold everywhere again with severe frosts and snowfalls returning.

-24.6C at Conwath in Strathclyde on the morning of the 13th and on the same day, Glasgow recorded a maximum of -7C.

A warm front moved into the west bringing sleet/snow and freezing rain but pressure increased over the Faeroes and the mild interlude was short lived.

Rrea00119790115.gif

As the high slipped into Scandinavia, the easterlies returned and a warm front moving up from the south gave further snowfalls to the south on the 17th and 18th.

This front gradually moved northwards and allowed milder weather into the south but it was still cold further north.

The winds in the south freshened from the east again and it became colder again and there were further snowfalls as a low moved through the Channel.

Rrea00119790124.gif

Pressure increased over Greenland and this allowed a northerly to become established across the UK with further snowfalls and severe frosts across the UK until the end of the month.

February

The cold weather of January continued into February. Fronts to the south of the UK gave some rain/sleet and snow to these areas.

On the 7th, a front managed to reach northern England giving snowfalls here but to the south of it, temperatures rose to double figures for a time.

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High pressure to the north and east prevented the fronts from moving further NEwards and Scotland remained very cold with severe frosts and snowfalls in the east.

By the 14th, a very cold blast of easterly winds was beginning to flood the UK.

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These winds were gale force brought heavy snow showers, blizzards, drifting snow and sub zero maxima. Tynemouth recorded a maxima of -3C and a 48mph wind.

Conditions across the Pennines were appalling with drifting snow and depths of snow approaching 30cm in the east. Buxton, Norwich and Great Yarmouth were cut off at one stage.

The high moved into Scandinavia and by the 17th, a warm front moved into the west raising the temperatures to near norm but the cold weather persisted in the east.

The front finally broke through eastern parts on the 22nd. High pressure returned but unlike previous highs this was milder than it's predecessors.

At the end of the month it had slipped into Spain allowing Atlantic systems to enter the NW.

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Data for winter 1978-79

December 1978: 3.9 (-0.5)

January 1979: -0.4 (-3.7)

February 1979: 1.2 (-2.4)

December 1978 is the 8th wettest December on record (172.8mm)

January 1979 is the 17th coldest January on record. Mean CET max: 2.8

Winter 1978-79 is the 13th wettest winter on record

The coldest spells of the winter

27th Nov-1st Dec 1978: -0.6

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31st Dec 1978-6th Jan 1979: -2.9

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21st-28th Jan 1979: -1.7

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14th-18th Feb 1979: -1.8

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The mildest CET day: 14.1C 10th December 1978

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The coldest CET maximum day: -2.4C 31st December 1978

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The coldest CET minimum night: -8.6C 13th January

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The period 21st January - 18th February: -0.2

Plymouth

December Mean Max: 9.3C air frosts: 5

January Mean Max: 6.3C air frosts: 13

February Mean Max: 6.1C air frosts: 9

Birmingham

December Mean Max: 5.5C air frosts: 14

January Mean Max: 1.9C air frosts: 27

February Mean Max: 2.6C air frosts: 22

Glasgow

December Mean Max: 5.2C air frosts: 13

January Mean Max: 2.9C air frosts: 22

February Mean Max: 4.4C air frosts: 19

Belfast

December Mean Max: 6.4C air frosts: 7

January Mean Max: 3.2C air frosts: 20

February Mean Max: 4.7C air frosts: 14

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I remember this well - it was the famous Winter of Discontent and the snowy weather, rubbish piled up on pavements and dead unburied all did for Callaghan, who lost the General Election in the spring.

I have always had it etched on my mind walking over Westminster Bridge in January 1979 in a blizzard with a biting easterly blowing down the river, feeling as cold as I can ever remember it. For some reason that moment has never escaped me.

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My sister bought me a book which I then lost but I found it again this morning and it is a monthly record of the weather in Perth from 1968 to 2001.

The details for the winter of 1978/79 are:

December: Mean Max: 4.7c

Mean Min: 0.8c

Max Temp: 10.4c (10th)

Min Temp: -6.0c (31st)

Air Frosts: 11

Days with Snowfall: 6

January: Mean Max: 2.8c

Mean Min: -3.9c

Max Temp: 9.0c (6th)

Min Temp: -13.8c (13th)

Air Frosts: 24

Days with Snowfall: 10

February: Mean Max: 3.6c

Mean Min: -2.5c

Max Temp: 9.0c (23rd)

Min Temp: -7.9c (7th)

Air Frosts: 21

Days with Snowfall: 10

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Winter 1978-79 was unusual for a sub 2C winter in that it was also very wet. December was exceptionally wet but January and February were not exactly dry. A total rainfall of 335.2mm.

You have to go to winter 1878- 1879 for the next wettest sub 2C winter with 250.0mm, ironically 100 years before.

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was 16 years old and at college starting my city and guilds engineering course. remember it really well as we had a snowball fight in the college grounds whilst wearing shorts and t shirts. we had been playing five a side indoors when someone came in shouting that it was snowing really heavily. i also remember going out one night having bathed and washed my hair. i got to the pub and my hair was frozen where i had not dried it fully (yes i was allowed in the pub at 16)

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I was just leaving school for the day in jan 79,and it started to snow :) Iwas 14, the buses had stopped, so i set off for a 3 mile trudge heading through a severe easterly blizzard :o By the time i got home i looked like a snowman :D School was called off for a few days after that :) Happy Days :)

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Stratos Ferric has made the point a few times that the winter featured almost every possible synoptic setup that could bring snow.

Some notable frontal battlegrounds, particularly in February; some northerlies in late January, easterlies around New Year, 20 January and again in mid-February, and even some snowfalls from W and NW winds in the second week of January. The prevailing setup seemed to change quite frequently, but mainly from one cold and snowy setup to another.

Not only that, but it was also wintry during the spring, with North-East England particularly heavily hit from NE winds in mid March (46cm in Newcastle), and with exceptionally potent N and NW winds in early May, giving a snow cover at normally snowless Lancaster- in May!

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Winter 1978-79 was unusual for a sub 2C winter in that it was also very wet. December was exceptionally wet but January and February were not exactly dry. A total rainfall of 335.2mm.

You have to go to winter 1878- 1879 for the next wettest sub 2C winter with 250.0mm, ironically 100 years before.

Indeed - I seem to remember several occasions that winter of very heavy rain falling for several hours which then turned to snow and continued for several more hours with dropping temperatures. Driving up to Scotland for New Year, we only just got through at Shap before the road was closed by heavy snow.

It was a winter with some noticeably heavy falls of snow on several different occasions. It's very unusual now (can't remember the last time) for heavy rain to turn to snow which then settles with very cold air digging in behind. Classic conditions for a heavy fall of snow as the cold air undercuts the very moist air allowing the precipitation to fall as snow and settle easily even on previously very wet ground.

Great winter indeed. Well researched once again Mr D.

Moose

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I was just leaving school for the day in jan 79,and it started to snow :) Iwas 14, the buses had stopped, so i set off for a 3 mile trudge heading through a severe easterly blizzard :D By the time i got home i looked like a snowman :) School was called off for a few days after that :o Happy Days :)

I remember it too, my mum was determined to get us to school that day as she had to get her "hair done"! The roads were treacherous and the snow kept falling, (this was in Surrey travelling from Newdigate to Leatherhead). I don't know how she put up with us moaning from the back of the car as the journey which normally took 35 mins took an hour and half.. as we finally pulled up outside the school she conceded defeat and took us with her to get her "hair done" in Dorking. An hour and half watching the perm set while the snow kept falling, it was so bad she took us straight home when the only decent sledging hills are around Dorking!

I'm still scared to this day...as you might detect :)

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Great thread Mr Data.

The winter of 78/79 was probably my first memory of snowfall as I was 8 years old. What I do remember vivdly is the snow drifts which were unbelievable. I especially remember a weather warning on the TV saying blizzards on the way that evening and I remember how me & my brothers looked out the window from that moment onwards.

It is the snowfalls of 78/79/81 which got me hooked on the weather. :)

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Great thread Mr Data.

The winter of 78/79 was probably my first memory of snowfall as I was 8 years old. What I do remember vivdly is the snow drifts which were unbelievable. I especially remember a weather warning on the TV saying blizzards on the way that evening and I remember how me & my brothers looked out the window from that moment onwards.

It is the snowfalls of 78/79/81 which got me hooked on the weather. :)

Got to echo your statement their TEITS, I remember going out that 78-79 winter as 10 year old nipper at daybreak and not coming home until after dark with nothing but an "Icky bag" (thick plastic ICI bag) for slides, of course those days a kid could play out all day even on his own without risk to the evils that todays sick society brings :o

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I can recall the winter of 78-79. I used to peer out of the bedroom window watching the heavy snow falling which was, and still is, something I love doing. I was living in the centre of Winchester at the time and I can remember the traffic problems because of so much snow on the roads. The dual carriageway (now the M3) was impassable several times with people living in Winchester being unable to get to work in Southampton. I can also remember the cold. It was bitterly cold and recall news reports about elderly people dying of hypothermia. I can't remember much about the late 70's but have particularly clear recollections of 78-79, most probably because of all the snow and the way it reminded me of living in Canada.

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I remember that winter very clearly, our headmaster decided to relax the rules at my junior school so that we could wear long trousers :o I also recall the 1/3 pint bottles of milk we got at school being frozen :)

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Thank you so much for posting this, I was 7 and living in Chelmsford, Essex, one of the severist winters I can remember, and those chats are mouth-watering, as TWS Says almost every possible synoptic set-up, you just do NOT Get those charts any more :o :) Why ??

Paul Sherman

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The ground was frozen that deep, Workmen building a new extension to our school, were unable to dig with a JCB through the deeply frozen soil, they had to use a compressor, like taking up tarmac on the highway. Some mornings they had to fire the fuel lines on that digger with lit rags before it would start, the diesel was thickening as the temperature was so low. They were swearing a lot aswell :o (We did snowball them when we got the chance b/w.)

I well remember Buxton being cut off, i lived less than 10 miles away in Macclesfield. Whenever it snowed in Macc, Buxton was usually unattainable for us. In a car it involved going over the Cat and Fiddle Route, which was in the news a frequently, for being blocked at the time. The drifting snow in the Peak district was amazing, the drifts stayed till summer in places, i was up there in my t-shirt throwing snowballs in June :)

Thanks Mr Data.

Russ.

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It was also one of my first memories of snowfall also with drifting snow and huge snow drifts, stayed at home trying to walk up our country lanes through the snow drifts as we had days off school which was great :)

New years eve 1978 was most memorable though I just recall the forecast.

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A question for MR Data(great report by the way)

Do you know when mid-Wales had a freezing rain event during 1978 I think?

I do remember that weather on TV that morning showing the effected area of freezing rain.

I don`t know which month it only lasted a day but the trees were all ice and roads were impossible to travel I`ll always remember that day,it did thaw slightly in the daytime,and little bits of snow under the ice,then it refroze the next night. ;)

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I was in Chester over the New Year period 29 Dec 1978 to 03 January 1979, and during that period I was driving back to Chester from Mold, just over the border in Wales. It was New Year's Day 01 January 1979 - evening - and I left Mold at about 7pm. It was a nightmare journey through a raging snowstorm and it took three times longer than normal to cover the journey as the whirling snowflakes (the dry powdery stuff) cut visibility to practically zero at times. I had to make a detour from the way I intended as I preferred to keep to the main road and I had to go through Chester City Centre. It was practically deserted in the snowstorm but the huge Christmas tree and it's lights looked even more atttractive under the additional decoration of a thick snow cover. And wow! was it cold with it, too! I think we saw maxima well below zero for the following days.

The immediate post Christmas period was very wet but the rain turned to wet snow as the colder weather kicked in and then the dry powdery stuff as the cold tightened its grip.

Another feature of that very long winter, made worse by terrible industrial strife with strikes all over the place, was the way milder spells tried to move up from the south now and again, and succeeded in the south for a day or two, but then the bitterly cold easterlies soon returned to cover the whole country again with a return of the snowfalls, with blizzard conditions in a lot of places.

I remember returning home some time later in January 1979, at about 11pm one evening, to an unheated flat. All the windows were thickly frosted over with spectacular frost feathers. I turned all heating devices on full blast and half an hour later all the windows were clear again.

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1979 was a great and long lasting winter. I remember a major blizzard in mid-February, I got up early on the 15th to go to work and found a drift of snow from the ( ill fitting ) door of the kitchen stretching half way across the room, there were several washing up bowls of snow in the drift and I remember thinking it must be pretty damn cold in this kitchen for the snow not to have thawed.

When I opened the door I was confronted with a wall of snow from bottom to top; the cottage we lived in was built into a hillside and the back yard,in a deep hollow, had partially filled with drifted snow to a depth of about 6 feet.

In a nearby village where the lanes were deeply entrenched between steep banks the council snowploughs were unable to cope with the depth of the drifts and a Hi-mac was sent out. After digging out a short section of road the Hi-mac came to a section where the snow was more than 15 feet deep and became stuck, normal procedure is to lower the digging arm and lift the machine to get a better footing but on this occasion the digging arm extended to full length and encountered only snow and the machine remained stuck for almost a week.

We had no central heating in the house and I recall snow blowing through the keyhole of the front door, thawing slightly as it accumulated on the key and forming an icicle on the end of the key as it dripped very slowly on to the floor, this was only 9 feet from a roaring log and coal fire in the sitting/living room.

T.M

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tks for that Mr D, a great synopsis of charts and explanations.

Yet again its another winter I remember well. At times a forecasting nightmare.

Unless I'm mistaken its the winter when, in February, forget the date, but Radio Sheffield stopped its normal broadcasts and simply kept giving out snow/ice information and which roads were open or closed in and around the city.

1979 was a great and long lasting winter. I remember a major blizzard in mid-February, I got up early on the 15th to go to work and found a drift of snow from the ( ill fitting ) door of the kitchen stretching half way across the room, there were several washing up bowls of snow in the drift and I remember thinking it must be pretty damn cold in this kitchen for the snow not to have thawed.

When I opened the door I was confronted with a wall of snow from bottom to top; the cottage we lived in was built into a hillside and the back yard,in a deep hollow, had partially filled with drifted snow to a depth of about 6 feet.

In a nearby village where the lanes were deeply entrenched between steep banks the council snowploughs were unable to cope with the depth of the drifts and a Hi-mac was sent out. After digging out a short section of road the Hi-mac came to a section where the snow was more than 15 feet deep and became stuck, normal procedure is to lower the digging arm and lift the machine to get a better footing but on this occasion the digging arm extended to full length and encountered only snow and the machine remained stuck for almost a week.

We had no central heating in the house and I recall snow blowing through the keyhole of the front door, thawing slightly as it accumulated on the key and forming an icicle on the end of the key as it dripped very slowly on to the floor, this was only 9 feet from a roaring log and coal fire in the sitting/living room.

T.M

those were the days TM, central heating, bah humbug! Mind you I would not be without it now. So although I hope for some cold spells I do NOT want the apocalyptic type of winter some of the 'young uns' on here crave for.

Once bitten twice shy as they say.

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Oh NO!!!!

I lived through that winter and have absolutely no recall of it!

A fate worse than death to forget a good winter.

How can I live with myself anymore?

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. There was a thermometer hanging in our family garden and it was -4C in the blizzard. Amazing memories, and an icy picture postcard to follow in the days ahead.

:o

Tamara

Hi Tamara,

I often wonder how people got interested in meteorology. A thermometer in the garden?

Was this the start of your interest in weather?

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If I remember rightly 78/79 was the first and only time I have seen 'diamond dust'. Miriads of minute ice crystals falling from a clear sky and a gorgeous lower sun pillar so close you could hold it on your hand like a cold flame.

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If I remember rightly 78/79 was the first and only time I have seen 'diamond dust'. Miriads of minute ice crystals falling from a clear sky and a gorgeous lower sun pillar so close you could hold it on your hand like a cold flame.

The only time I can recall seeing 'diamond dust' was in Dec' 1981 at a temperature of -16c; I may well have seen some in 1963 but if I did I was too young to know what it was and certainly can't remember it.

T.M

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Actually John it started well before that! I only have very vague memories, but as a small child I used to stare out of the window at the sky and forget about painting or games with the other kids and go into a dream world of my own about the weather :lol:

I actually grew into quite a sociable person who loves groups of people - but there is nothing like the weather (most esp snow) for me to still go 'off' on one of my dreamworlds. :D

I think it is why I have such good recall for daily details of these past cold spells. I can hang my hat on where I was based on what the weather was doing. Not just cold spells - also thunderstorms, gales and other spectacular events. But snow most of all!

:)

Tamara

If I remember rightly 78/79 was the first and only time I have seen 'diamond dust'. Miriads of minute ice crystals falling from a clear sky and a gorgeous lower sun pillar so close you could hold it on your hand like a cold flame.

Hi TM, Tamara, John, everyone,

I can’t really remember when my interest in the weather began, all I know is that it’s as long as I can remember, my mum once said to me, even as a very young lad that I was always gazing in to the sky and asking her questions. One was 'why are all snow flakes different?' mum usually couldn't answer so eventually she bought me a book, The Observers Book of Weather.

As a schoolboy in the 60’s, the teacher was constantly telling me to face the front, not because I was talking, you guessed cos I was gazing out of the window. I can remember one particular occasion while sitting in class, I was looking up through the sky light at the pouring rain, I couldn’t take my eyes off it because I had noticed that as the rain hit the glass roof it was gradually taking on a the cats paw like appearance, the classic sign of rain turning to snow, in my excitement I butted in while the class was in full flow of what ever I was supposed to be learning and shouting out ‘ it’s snowing’ everyone in class just looked at me as though I was stupid, because to everyone else it was just like a normal rainy day. I knew different and I continued and watched mesmerised as the first real snowflakes mixed with the rain and it all turned to snow.

So in the end I had the last laugh, as we walked home in the snow that evening, but I didn’t learn anything in the lesson lol, the story of my school life.

There was just one thing that possibly saved my education, that book my mum bought me, the Observers book of Weather, a brilliant book for kids, I must have read it from cover to cover a hundred times, infact I still have that book somewhere, I must find it, I still don’t know the answer to that question! ;)

Moving forward a few years to 1979, to when I was around 23, I remember one special very cold day, the coldest day ever in Burton upon Trent, January 3rd. The temperature fell to –16c over snow cover the previous night, thick freezing fog formed which persisted all that day in the valley, the maximum only got to –11c, it was so cold the fog was actually precipitating out as very fine snow, diamond dust or some times I think referred to as ice fog, strangely this phenomenon doesn’t normally occur until the temperature gets down to –40c, I think with Burton being highly industrial there was probably some kind of seeding effect taking place. Amazingly this strange snow accumulated to around half and inch, but just out of the valley where I live there was no fog nor any precipitation and the temperature maximum was a mere –1c. oh for a return of those cold bitter winters.

Paul

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Hi Tamara,

Thanks for sharing that with us.

I think I am somewhat the same in that when it snows i love looking at it falling and as you say go into a world of my own.

Actually John it started well before that! I only have very vague memories, but as a small child I used to stare out of the window at the sky and forget about painting or games with the other kids and go into a dream world of my own about the weather :lol:

I actually grew into quite a sociable person who loves groups of people - but there is nothing like the weather (most esp snow) for me to still go 'off' on one of my dreamworlds. :D

I think it is why I have such good recall for daily details of these past cold spells. I can hang my hat on where I was based on what the weather was doing. Not just cold spells - also thunderstorms, gales and other spectacular events. But snow most of all!

;)

Tamara

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