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Winter 1990-91 The great December snowstorm/February freeze

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#1 Weather-history

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Posted 15 November 2006 - 00:36

The winter of 1990-91 will always be remembered for the great December snowstorm and the February freeze


High pressure was sitting over the UK and began to move to the west as a cold front moved down from the NW.


By the 7th of December, the cold front was across central parts of the UK but it began to develop a wave feature on the front.


At the same time, cold Arctic air was moving behind the cold front from the north. A closed circulation developed and pressure fell by 40mbs in 36 hours reaching 987mb by the 8th and was centred over the SE of England. Heavy preciptation fell over the Midlands and the Peninnes, this fell as snow over the highest parts but at low levels, it was initially rain. With Arctic air moving along the western flank, the rain rapidly turned into snow and since temperatures were fractionally above freezing the snow was wet. The rate of snowfall was high about 6cm an hour and as result many areas were snow covered within half an hour of the snow starting to fall.
The rate of pressure fall caused the winds to increase and across the Midlands, the winds reached gale force causing blizzard conditions and drifting snow.
Transport was severely disrupted and many people were trapped in their cars on the M5 and M6 motorways as well as numerous A roads in the Midlands.
The NEC in Birmingham was used as a haven for rescued drivers. Many parts of the Midlands reported at least 20cm of level snow and there were depths of 60cm in the Derby area and there were drifts of up to 3.7m. In the centre of Birmingham itself depths were approaching 30cm.
The economic impact of the snowstorm was huge. The Saturday takings for stores and shops were well down compounded by the fact that it was three weeks to Christmas.
650,000 people were without electricity and about 1.2 million were without water. All rail services in the Midlands were cancelled. Within 4 days most of the snow had gone


High pressure dominated much of the middle of December

The weather became increasingly unsettled in the run up to Christmas

Christmas Day 1990 was a very stormy day for much of the UK.
A very deep depression was to the north of the UK with a central pressure of 955mb.
An active front passed through the UK bringing heavy rain and violent squalls, indeed,
there were tornadoes reported in the West Country. Wind speeds gusted up to 80mph causing
structural damage to buildings and bringing down power lines blacking out around 100,000 homes
in the south and west of England. There was flooding due to the heavy rain, the run up to
Christmas had been wet and windy.


The unsetteld weather continued into the New Year. On the 5th and 6th of January 1991, a vigorous low tracked across northern Scotland bringing severe gales along its southern flank across Ireland, England and Wales. There were gusts up to 70mph+ and these brought down trees and power lines. Thousands of homes were blacked out across Ireland and the southwest, the same areas that were just recovering from the Christmas 1990 storm.
13 people died as a result of the gales, 7 in Ireland when a tree crashed onto a minibus.


The weather turned colder in the north with snow falling at increasingly low levels. The weather finally settled down on the 13th


High pressure was to more or less to dominate the rest of that January

February 1991 was a cold and wintry month with heavy snowfalls and very low maxima across many parts of the UK. This was far removed from the last three winters and was the coldest spell for the UK since January 1987. The CET for the month was 1.5C

The month began with a trough across the UK bringing heavy showery rain to the south but snowfalls to northern England.


High pressure was over Scandinavia and this began to exert an influence over the UK as a cold easterly developed on the 2nd.
With each day, the easterly strengthed and introduced even colder air, so by the 6th, many areas of the UK was below freezing.


This marked the start of a very cold snowy spell with very low maxima and heavy snowfalls.
Snow showers came in on the easterly and at first they were most concentrated in eastern counties of England and the snow was dry and powdery and drifted in the strong wind.
By the evening of the 6th, the snowfalls were spreading to many parts of England and Wales so by the morning of the 7th, many areas woke up to a covering with a severe and penetrating frost
for example depths of snow at Gatwick were 7cm and a minimum of -11.7C was recorded. Heavy snowfalls fell throughout the day as troughs moved across the UK.


Maxima were very low between -5 and -6C in many southern areas, Guersney Airport recorded a maximum of just -7.2C. Depths of snow was widely approaching 10cm+ across England with drifting in the easterly wind. The snow brought travel chaos particularly on the trains, where British Rail made the legendary excuse that the chaos was caused by the wrong type of snow.
Villages on Exmoor were cut off by drifts approaching 2m. Cars were abandoned on roads and motorways as they became impassable to the drifting snow. Canals and ponds began to freeze and skating became possible. Parts of the shoreline of the Bristol Channel froze as did the Norfolk Broads and parts of Swansea Bay. Power lines in the SE were brought down in the blizzards causing blackouts.
By the 8th, conditions were severe over many areas with depths of snow approaching 20cm in a number of areas. Hampstead recorded 25cm of level snow, St James's Park in central London 20cm, probably the deepest snow there since December 1962, Bingley, West Yorkshire 47cm, Pencelli in Powys 35cm. With low pressure to the south and a trough across the UK, heavy snow showers and longer spells of snow fell throughout most of the 8th.
There was another severe frost on the night of the 8th and 9th with minima down to -10C but conditions had eased slightly on the 9th as the snow showers were less heavy and frequent but it was still very cold with maxima around
The weather had relented a little more on the 10th and temperatures rose just above freezing in the sunshine but snow showers continued in the east giving fresh falls. At night however, the frosts were at their severest with minima as low as -15C being recorded.
A low pressure moved into western areas on the 12th with rain but as this engaged the cold air it turned readily to snow and gave a fresh covering to eastern areas. Stansted Airport was closed at one stage because of heavy snow and depths here were approaching 24cm.


High pressure built across the UK and there were further frosts at night and a slow thaw during the day. In any freezing fog patches, temperatures remained below freezing.
By the 15th, a front had moved into western areas bringing drizzle and a gentle thaw but by the 16th, a northerly flow was across the UK and there were further frosts and ice where snow had thawed.


It was until the 20th that the Atlantic systems finally broke through bringing very mild SWlies, much rain especially over western slopes and a rapid thaw.
Temperatures were widely in double figures with London 13.9C and Lowestoft 14.7C.


Colder SElies returned to NE parts right at the end of the month.


Data for Winter 1990-91

December 1990: 4.3 (-0.3)
January 1991: 3.3 (-0.5)
February 1991: 1.5 (-2.3)

First half of February 1991: -1.5

Coldest spells of winter

14th-18th December:
22nd January-19th February: 0.2
3rd-14th February: -1.9

Coldest CET maximum day: -2.2C 7th February
Mildest CET maximum day: 12.4 1st January
Coldest CET minimum night: -7.2C 14th February
Manchester Summer Index for 2015: 193 (up to 27th August)

#2 Nemesis

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Posted 15 November 2006 - 00:49

Thanks again for an extremely informative and nostalgic look at the weather. I'm sure I speak for everyone on here when I say your posts are very much appreciated

I remember Feb 1991 well. I was 14 and still vividly recall one night just looking at the snowfall all night as it piled up. I believe we had about 45cm up on the north kent downs

I actually made an igloo in the back garden from empty ice cream brick shaped cartons. It took all day but I managed to actually sit inside it and eat dinner lol. It was actually quite warm in there.

Happy days. That was probably the last time I saw significant snowfall over 1 foot (30cm)

#3 Rustynailer


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Posted 15 November 2006 - 01:22

Thanks Mr Data, this was Sandown Bay 1991, snow on the beech, frozen water pipes and a lovely ice days( i say days there was more than one i think(?) with fine powdery snow blowing around, Is what i remember most. I cant remember the exact date i took the picture :)
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#4 Weather-history

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Posted 15 November 2006 - 09:28

Data for February 1991

Mean Max: 5.4
Mean Min: -1.3
Lowest Min: -8.9
Days with falling snow/sleet: 8
Days with lying snow: 8
Air frosts: 16

Mean Max: 5.8
Mean Min: -0.7
Lowest Min: -5.8
Days with falling snow/sleet: 8
Days with lying snow: 2
Air frosts: 13

Mean Max: 4.9
Mean Min: -2.3
Lowest Min: -2.3
Days with falling sleet/snow: 13
Days with lying snow: 8
Air frosts: 20

Mean Max: 5.7
Mean Min: -1.5
Lowest Min: -6.7
Days with falling sleet/snow: 9
Days with lying snow: 7
Air frosts: 19

Mean Max: 5.6
Mean Min: -2.2
Lowest Min: -11.6
Days with falling sleet/snow: 7
Days with lying snow: 11
Air frosts: 18
Manchester Summer Index for 2015: 193 (up to 27th August)

#5 charlton north-downs

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Posted 15 November 2006 - 10:41

Hi Mr Data
Brilliant report as usual. Agree with Canadian Rocky North Downs had over 40cm and extremly cold. Had to work in London one evening and the snow was at least 20cm with no sign sign of melt which is very unusual. Dont know if I put my son off snow but when I took him out in our
back garden he disappeared for a couple of seconds when he fell over and a mouth full of snow to add to his misery.
Do you think when a true Easterly blows the South East is often the worse hit and can have the coldest weather- seems to of only happened twice in my life time 1987 60cm on the Downs(Central London had a max of -7c min -9c on the coldest day) and 1991 45cm .
I follow the charts but in a very amaturish way but I seem to remember I think it was in 1981 the South was forecast to have 10cm of snow from a fast moving front from the West -when this passed I thought oh well the snows finished but about 3 hours later it started again and and another 12cm of snow fell with a strong Easterly wind , I remember on the telly the forcaster saying the original front had stalled as it hit very cold air in the East and the front then moved back across the South East. Total snow was about 22cm . This must be very unusual. :cold:

#6 Always expect rain

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Posted 15 November 2006 - 10:57

Thanks for that Mr data

Ah the memories I was 14 at the time and it was the last time school was shut because of the snow - now of course they shut schools if there is a cm of snow :D :lol: :cold:

The snow came in the early hours and then every few days we seemed to get a top up of fresh snow, when school finally resumed I remember a games lesson wearing our rugby kits and being allowed to go up the local hill and sled down on what ever we had to hand which was invarably plastic bags. By this time the snow was quite hard and icy and hurt like hell when only wearing shorts and it took about an hour to thaw out afterwards

great fun and nothing to really compare against since.

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#7 Weather-history

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Posted 15 November 2006 - 13:51

John Motson at the called off FA Cup tie, Wycombe Wanderers v Peterborough Utd, 8th December 1990

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Manchester Summer Index for 2015: 193 (up to 27th August)

#8 sconetone

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Posted 08 December 2006 - 09:56

16 years ago today - can't believe it has gone by so fast!

I lived in Nottingham at the time and remember it very very well, it was chucking it down with rain the previous night, I remember 'Charlie' the Central TV weathergirl forecasting more rain for overnight. Surprised as hell when I woke up to amazingly deep snow, power lines down - total whiteout!

Didn't take long for the Radio Trent FM snowline to start! Went on all weekend it did and reported widespread school closures from the sunday evening etc..

Not seen anything like it since and it's scary to think that if I have to wait another 16 years I'll be in my 50's!!! :unsure:

Edited by sconetone, 08 December 2006 - 09:58 .



#9 VillagePlank


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Posted 08 December 2006 - 10:00

I met my girlfriend (who later become my wife) the summer before that - the day after England lost on penalties (again), in fact. Will never forgot that winter, ever.

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#10 North-Easterly Blast

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Posted 19 February 2008 - 20:16

Will we ever see the likes of this very cold snowy spell of Feb 1991 EVER AGAIN?

February 1991 CET Trackometer:

1. 1.2
2. 1.0
3. 0.4
4. 0.0
5. -0.2
6. -0.4
7. -1.0
8. -1.3
9. -1.6
10. -1.7
11. -1.6
12. -1.7
13. -1.5
14. -1.5
15. -1.3
16. -1.0
17. -0.8
18. -0.7
19. -0.6
20. -0.4
21. -0.1
22. 0.2
23. 0.5
24. 0.9
25. 1.0
26. 1.3
27. 1.4
28. 1.5 (1.54*C)

#11 Crepuscular Ray

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Posted 19 February 2008 - 22:43

Urgh. I was staying at my parents' home in E Sussex at the time (off sick with a bout of shingles in the face which meant that going out in the cold was an absolute no, no, no): they didn't have double glazing or central heating and every morning there were icicles trailing down inside the windows and down the walls. Dad measured (I think) -10C or below (-15C a couple of times) about 10 nights in a row. There wasn't actually that much snow, it was just very, very, very cold.

Edited by crepuscular ray, 19 February 2008 - 22:44 .

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#12 Coast


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Posted 20 February 2008 - 09:54

Oh yes, I remember trying to drive up to Butts Brow in Willingdon to go sledging and going further back than I was going forward!

Not many pictures of this event on the web, odd considering it was in the comparative recent past. One or two here from February 1991 however:

Posted Image

Wickham (Nr Fareham) Hants

Posted Image

St Leonard's (Hastings) East Sussex

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St. James's Church, Lower Gornal, Staffordshire 13th February 1991

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#13 Terminal Moraine

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Posted 20 February 2008 - 19:26

I was commuting by cycle in 1991, a 33 mile round trip each day,and remember some of the most uncomfortable journeys I 've ever experienced. Apart from it being pitch dark with icy or snow covered roads I also got frostbitten extremeties, whilst doing 20-25 mph in a temperature of -8 to -12c, and I don't just mean fingers and toes! Extremely painful. I needed no reminding after that to put plenty of newspaper inside the cycling gear to cut out the wind.
Having experienced what was, apparantly, mild frostbite I can't imagine the pain associated with severe frostbite, I'll leave that to the arctic explorers and the mountaineers.

Edited by Terminal Moraine, 20 February 2008 - 19:26 .

Patiently awaiting the winter to eclipse 1683/84

#14 SnowStorm(Jamie)

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Posted 19 March 2008 - 16:28

Great post Mr Data!

Very interesting to read, i was born on the winter of 1991 (Feb 27th) so i kinda missed out on all the action. :lol:
Thanks for the awesome pictures to guys! If only we could have a good winter like that again.

Jamie ;)

Edited by SnowStorm(Jamie), 19 March 2008 - 16:28 .

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#15 millzzz

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Posted 20 July 2008 - 14:37

Thankyou for writing this. I remember the December event vividly, despite being just 7 years old. My own little tale...
I remember having caught a BBC forecast on Thursday evening with the possibility of snow from the Friday into Saturday.
I went to school the next day and watched out for the snow all day, telling my friends what was about to happen. Alas, nothing happened and I was so disappointed. It came to about 2:30 and my teacher (Mr Jones) let us do some drawing for half an hour before home time. I drew a picture of an igloo in the falling snow, with the words 'Snow Patrol' on a sign next to it. I was concentrating drawing this with my charcoal stick when a friend said it was snowing.
I recall the whole class being hyper as we went out of school to meet our parents at the gate. I spent the evening watching the snow fall, and eventually went to bed.
The following morning (8th), I woke up and went straight to the window to see how much snow we had. I ran into my parents room and woke them up, making them get out of bed to look at what was outside. I can still remember the huge snowflakes swirling through the air onto the foot of laying snow. I couldn't wait to get out there, but my mum insisted I had breakfast first! Kellogs frosties were consumed in record time.
I played out in the snow from about 8:30am until 9:00pm (which included walking to Safeways with my family to bring the weekly shop home on my wooden sled). The evening light was mystical with the orange glow of the snow under the street lights. That day was perfect, and I shall never forget it. :doh:

Edited by millzzz, 20 July 2008 - 14:42 .

#16 damianslaw

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Posted 20 July 2008 - 17:14

Feels a bit strange reminiscing about winters past in the middle of summer, but anyhow, yes I have very vivid memories of the Dec snow event, even though we never saw much settle, I remember the ferocity of the wind it was a true blizzard. My friend and I went to the local park on our bikes, I remember the wind kept pushing us backwards (location: Windermere). The winter as a whole was a good one whilst not a truely cold one, it was a proper wintry season.

#17 Noctilucid


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Posted 03 August 2008 - 23:41

They just don't do winers like they used to nowadays do they. :)

I can never remember an good winter, this was all a year before I was born. B)

Its amazing to see such sustained northerly or easterly shots, nowadays set ups like that with LP to the South and HP to the North seem hard to come by.

If only we had Northerly or Easterly blasts in winter as frequently as we have southerly plumes in summer. :)

Edited by jshaw, 03 August 2008 - 23:43 .

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#18 damianslaw

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Posted 07 August 2008 - 20:59

They just don't do winers like they used to nowadays do they. :)

I can never remember an good winter, this was all a year before I was born. :lol:

Its amazing to see such sustained northerly or easterly shots, nowadays set ups like that with LP to the South and HP to the North seem hard to come by.

If only we had Northerly or Easterly blasts in winter as frequently as we have southerly plumes in summer. :)

We have had blasts of northerly and easterly airstreams in winters since particularly Nov 1993, Feb 1994, Dec 1995, late Jan 96, Feb/Mar 96, Dec 96, Jan 97, Jan/Feb/Mar 01 in bits and bits in Feb/Mar 05 and late Nov 05, late Feb/early Mar 06. However, not since Feb 1991 have we seen a sustained severe spell of wintry weather from the east, nor a cold arctic continental airstream from the NE, the closest we have come being Dec 95 and we were on the verge of such a spell in Jan 06. In recent years the most sustained coldest weather has come courtesy if anticyclonic conditions directly overhead think last December and Dec 06.

#19 snowmadchrisuk

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Posted 08 December 2008 - 01:02

Alot of posts regarding this cold spell on the forums at the moment, So I thought id bring this back up the forum abit :lol: Lots of you tube videos of the event flying around at the moment one of which is here. http://uk.youtube.co...h?v=qc49oYbAIr4

Great research there by mr data by the way. :lol:
Global cooling is coming ..... Santa may soon need a warmer suit lol.

#20 Nick H

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Posted 08 December 2008 - 10:23


Ian McCaskill on the late forecast, 6 Feb 1991.

Just look at those "numbers", as Mr Corbett would say, 1min53sec into the tape.