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carinthian

50 YEARS AGO - THE 1963 BIG FREEZE

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I was coming up for 10 in the winter of 1963 and remember it very well. In this area it was a winter remembered more for the intensity and longevity of the frost rather than the amount of snow.

In common with the other contributors in this section I lived in a house with no central heating or double glazing; we had coal fires in the kitchen and the front room and relied on these for warmth. The unheated rooms were, literally, freezing and my mother had the delicate job each morning of gently thawing out the lead pipes, without bursting them, so that we had running water for the rest of the day.

The windows, even in the heated rooms, were thick with frost throughout the day and it took a considerable amount of scraping to see anything through the bedroom windows. I remember having a glass of water on a table by my bed and waking up on several mornings to find it frozen too hard to poke a finger through the ice.

The local school did not close and I don't remember missing a day due to snow or severe frost. On one morning in mid-January we were playing outside prior to lessons beginning when the headmaster summoned about 5 of us older boys to come with him. The headmaster could be a fearsome man and we wondered what we might have done but he led us to a Six's thermometer on the wall of the school, about 4 feet above the playground. It was reading 9F at about 9.0 a.m, and this on a hilltop site at about 230 mts. He solemnly informed us that we should look at that thermometer very carefully as we might never see a reading as low as long as we live.

That made a very big impression on me. I already had an interest in the weather and had kept some rudimentary records for about six months in 1962 after the tremendous gale in February that year. I was now resolved to get myself a thermometer and keep 'proper' records and so began my weather records in September 1963 when my parents bought me a thermometer and a rain gauge.

A local pond was frozen so thickly that a farmer's son drove a tractor across it. ( Unfortunately he tried the same stunt at the beginning of March and the tractor went through the ice. He got out but the tractor was there for several weeks until it could be dragged out)

One final memory is that of feeding the birds. My parents used to buy 'Swoop' bird food ( anyone remember that? ) and we had several bird tables in a large garden. Even the shyest of birds seemed to lose all fear of humans in that winter, so desperate were they for food, and I remember seeing Green Woodpeckers eating from the bird table only a few feet from the kitchen window. I also remember a Robin which couldn't stand or fly properly. My mother went out, picked it up, and brought it indoors to find that it had two balls of ice, about the size of large marbles, frozen to it's feet. She got a small bowl of warm water into which she held its' feet until the ice thawed, dried it off and released it unharmed.( and probably very relieved).

I've certainly seen snowier winters than 1962/63 but I still haven't seen a lower temperature at a hilltop site than tthe 9F in the school playground.

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Fascinating read TM.

I like the part about the the lowest temperature and I've both read and heard first hand about birds and other wildlife losing all fear of humans during this bleak time.

Although I was old enough to say I lived through the winter of 1963 (the clue is in the name) I wish I could have actually witnessed it as it must have been amazing although no doubt very tough for those having to work through it.

To all posters on this thread, thanks and please keep up the stories coming in.

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Some incredible stories thanks for sharing everyone :)

I was born in 1989 so can't even begin imagine what it must of been like during the winters of '87, '63 and '47, never seen snow deeper than 2-3 inches deep! Only had my first proper sub zero max here in Reading a few weeks back when it got to just -1.9c before that the coldest day I'd experienced was only a high of -0.6c.

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To illustrate how cold and how prolonged taken from the link I show I think on page 2 for my experiences working through that winter the following shows a lengthy period BELOW zero C for the whole time. Not one or two ice days almost a week!

And there was a continuous frost(air temperature constantly below 0C) from 1500Z on 18th January 1963 until 0900Z on 2

6th January 1963(186 hours); put another way, almost a WHOLE week!!

the averages Mean=-5.6C

Aveg Max=-2.2C

Avge Min=-9.0C

Now maybe some folk will understand my reluctance to experience that type of winter ever again!

remember these were official Met O readings with all the checks and double checks that occur with their statistics and everything needing to conform to very rigorous observing and siting of instruments.

Just thought of another comparison

I have been skiing every year since 1988 at Wengen 4100ft up in the Swiss Alps. The official temperature figures for there have only on 1 or 2 years shown values lower than mine when averaged over a week!

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Some great and insightful accounts of the 1962/63 winter here. The persistence of cold frozen snowy weather was well beyond anything that I've experienced- my nearest approaches were 17th December 2009-9th January 2010, and 25th November-26th December 2010.

Having read through all of the accounts, I get the impression that I'd have really enjoyed the early part of that winter, but not sure about 9 weeks of it, as the references to dwindling food supplies, broken heating systems and repeated partial freeze-thaw cycles turning the snow icy are off-putting. However, there's a lot to be said for living through such a remarkable event and being able to tell the tale afterwards- I have no regrets about being in France during the August 2003 heatwave for instance, even though it was hell at the time.

I think we'd certainly be forced to re-think some of our Health and Safety policies in order to keep moving were such a winter to happen again!

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Yes please.

Seems like a lifetime away and such a difference to today, where when the heating goes off in October, the kids are off school for a week!!!

That's a good point, during the 62/63 winter I only had 2 days off school. I had to walk about three quarters of a mile on top of the hedgerows to just get to the school bus, one day it was simply impossible the next day the bus didn't turn up. I'm pretty certain that the school remained open on every day though. Conditions in the playground were treacherous but we still got sent outside at dinner time. I don't know what would happen these days as they close the schools if there's more than a couple of inches of snow for safety reasons,

Pete

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Another few memories me from:

The bird / animal life has been mentioned above, my mother was a godsend to them, every day she used to put fresh water out and normally with about an hour it used to start to freeze, but during this time it was fascinating to see the different animals / birds appear, they sort of had a pecking order with the larger animals being the first on the scene followed by the birds, it was always interesting to see the smaller birds (especially the robins) getting upset as they had to wait there turn, she also fed the wildlife the most popular was fat from the meat followed by bird seed, bread etc. one day she forgot to do her daily job of replenishing the food and water, after a while there was a tremendous din in the garden, and eventually she realised. I really wished that I had taken some photos, they would have been fascinating to show now.

Again someone reminded me about the frozen water in the bedroom, the first time that happened I was so surprised, eventually we gave up taking water to bed as it alway froze. The lack of heating in those days was alarming, you youngsters have no idea how a house can get so cold so quickly, there was no such thing as insulated lofts or double glazing, on the window front I still can remember the gaps in the single glazed window frames due to the metal frame warping, we filled these with paper to try to stop the cold wind, this actually made the situation worse as the paper froze and the ice that formed ice which expanded and the crack grew into a large hole, oh happy days.

Whilst during this winter I was at school, like most of the population my father worked locally, which meant he could walk to work, therefore travelling was not a problem, if a winter of the likes of '62/63 occurred again the because of we all travel more then far greater travel disruption must surely occur. Until I got married I had only lived in my parents council house, I don't know if we where lucky or if this was normal but within a 5 minutes walk in any directions of our front door we had 2 general stores, a bakers (proper one that baked on the premises), a co-op, post office and a green grocers. Therefore we could survive, in these days of large supermarkets dominating the local communities and killing off the corner shops the ease of getting food in bad weather situations is much more difficult now, than it was back then. Power supply where a problem then and will be again this time. Whilst we where well served for shops, we did suffer from food shortages, these where mainly vegetables, meat, dairy stuffs, I also remember rice running out and most annoyingly for my mum salt, this almost caused a riot as people couldn't salt their paths, door steps etc.

The trains always seemed to run ok, probably not on time, but they did run, but I cannot remember if the southern region was steam on or electric at the time, my old memory going :-) one other thing, a lot goods where transported by train back then and there where a lot more stations around serving much smaller communities. Also there wasn't the traffic in those days, as I said previously we came from a very poor background and lived on a council estate on the wrong side of Dartford, in our street no one owned a car, probably on the estate which was on of the largest in the country there was a minimal number of cars probably less than 100. In fact my aunty (posh and lived up the other hill, so she was rich) was the only person who owned a car, she also had a tele and a phone! I remember seeing in the paper picture of trains and cars getting stuck / stranded for many days at a time, however this only affected a very small proportion of the population as no one had any transport other than bikes. The lorries suffered from diesel freezing and this again caused delivery problems, however I believe they now add additives to overcome this problem so this is an improvement from that period.

I think I have better shut up now and let other people have there say.

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5th JANUARY 1963

A mobile RSPCA van feeds starving Dartmoor ponies after heavy snow and prolonged cold weather has caused a crisis in the remote regions of Britain. Yalverton, Devon,

IPU448971.jpg

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/\ Please post up the pictures if you can, would love to see them. I remember a good dumping of snow around here in '86 I think.

Yes, I will do, will probably have to scan them first. Keep looking at this thread and you will see them come up in a few days.

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Another occasion of a severe blizzard in southeast Essex was the 30th December 1978.

The wind turned northeasterly and severe gale force. After a couple of snow grain showers giving a dusting overnight on the 28th it was dry all day until about seven pm. Then the temperature was -5C, the wind was storm force ten northeasterly. Powder snow was screaming down the length of the street where I lived in Hockley. It was like dust and it couldnt settle with the strength of the wind which tore at the snow grains and scraped all surfaces clear. But it started to pile up in the eddies. The storm lasted for seventeen hours. All night the wind screamed and the snow became so heavy at times that one couldnt see across the street, in the street light it was just a horizontal blur of powder dust, like a heavy cloud or fog blowing sideways.

In the morning the scene was unbelievable. drifts, drifts and more drifts, like the dunes on a beach. Some drifts would start from just one gate post and extend forty feet stretched out in a long ribbon down wind until it faded away into the snow cover. There was always a smaller drift infront of the objects and a curve around on both sides without actually touching the object itself. It was the first time I had seen this.....drifts from the roofs of cars and all around them but never touching.. Really wierd. In the fields the drifts were all hedgerow hight with nothing in the fields. The drifts lasted until March 1979. That was a bad winter, it snowed on and off for three months. School was closed every other week because of snowfall and drifts.

But that one storm was fierce. The fiercest I have ever witnessed.

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Yes, I will do, will probably have to scan them first. Keep looking at this thread and you will see them come up in a few days.

Thanks, look forward to it :) I have photo's that my late father took in that winter, his job was delivering animal feed. I have posted them up in the past on here but can't seem to find the webspace I used, will have to re-scan them.....

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Another occasion of a severe blizzard in southeast Essex was the 30th December 1978.

The wind turned northeasterly and severe gale force. After a couple of snow grain showers giving a dusting overnight on the 28th it was dry all day until about seven pm. Then the temperature was -5C, the wind was storm force ten northeasterly. Powder snow was screaming down the length of the street where I lived in Hockley. It was like dust and it couldnt settle with the strength of the wind which tore at the snow grains and scraped all surfaces clear. But it started to pile up in the eddies. The storm lasted for seventeen hours. All night the wind screamed and the snow became so heavy at times that one couldnt see across the street, in the street light it was just a horizontal blur of powder dust, like a heavy cloud or fog blowing sideways.

In the morning the scene was unbelievable. drifts, drifts and more drifts, like the dunes on a beach. Some drifts would start from just one gate post and extend forty feet stretched out in a long ribbon down wind until it faded away into the snow cover. There was always a smaller drift infront of the objects and a curve around on both sides without actually touching the object itself. It was the first time I had seen this.....drifts from the roofs of cars and all around them but never touching.. Really wierd. In the fields the drifts were all hedgerow hight with nothing in the fields. The drifts lasted until March 1979. That was a bad winter, it snowed on and off for three months. School was closed every other week because of snowfall and drifts.

But that one storm was fierce. The fiercest I have ever witnessed.

Remember that well and did not know snow was forcasted at the time, We were coming back from our nans place by train.. yet we left rather earlier that evening then usual and couldnt understand??? it wasnt untill we got to our street that i saw a car drive past with snow on!! thinking thats odd.. looking up at the night sky saying to me mum "why has that car, and now that car got snow on them".. and also noticing by now that we were almost running home!! Wasnt until the next morning that we had 6ft drifts in our garden, Greatest surprise ever that was.. and was glad that they hadnt told me and sent me and me sister early to bed that night as well (even tho i moaned and was confused at the time)

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I have got to say that for severe winter weather the southern North Sea and Thames Estuary take some beating. When frigid continental air crosses the southern North Sea the track is short enough to keep temperatures below freezing in the southeast but just long enough to produce huge amounts of snow but only in southeast Essex and Kent. Even ten miles away from the coast inland in Essexthe snow amounts are almost halved and twenty miles away from the coast in a northeasterly there can be no snow whatsoever.

But the Thames Estuary can be awsome. Quite a few times I have seen thunderstorms on the coast in southeast Essex dumping five or six inches of snow in less than forty five minutes. Next weekend we could se the potential for this to occur all over again.

All we need is a strong east, northeasterly of -10C air in the southern North Sea blowing up the Thames and crossing a sea temp of +7C and hey presto.....bang....the atmosphere is set alight.

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Just thought of another problem that occurred during this period of cold, something that caused quiet a few problems and i imagine a fair amount of distress, this was it was the difficulities in burying people, and back in those dim and distant days cremations where not as popular as they are now. it was hard to dig the graves as the permafrost went so deep.

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Winterwatch 1963: The big freeze ..BBC TWO 17:30 Tonight 19/01/2013...

Chris Packham looks at the worst winter of the 2oth Century.Explores the effect on wildlife and how we would cope today with another one like it...

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Did anyone watch it?

Those that did I hope you now understand why some of us that experienced it in all its glory are not too happy at the thought of another winter as severe as that was. Some of the stills and videos do also show how far out some comments on here at times about it was not that snowy!

From 21 December to, I think the 3rd of March =71 days, the mean temperature only got ABOVE zero on 15 days. The longest spell with a mean below zero C was 13 days in January which returned a mean for those 13 days of -4.4C. In February two lots of 6 days.

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Great programme enjoyed that. Watched some of it whilst listening in and scrolling through the chart archive on Wetterzentrale, some astounding charts in there. Great viewing.

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When was explaining why such Harsh winter spoke about Winds Hawaii etc, Was that some discription of SWW ?[ From end section when giving theory of why winter was harsh] Cliff Mitchelmore ioked all Hawaiis fault,,,,Just wondering if was SWW type event

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No the jet stream; as back in 62-63 few if any research scientists let alone UK Met had any real knowledge of it

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No the jet stream; as back in 62-63 few if any research scientists let alone UK Met had any real knowledge of it

Thanks John, understand what you saying,,,,,,,,,,,[,Nice seeing Cliff Mitchemore again,]

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Just looked up an old diary to confirm that on the 5th of February 1963 was shown round the Met Office at Kinloss by an RAF friend of my fathers. My abiding memory is of snow blowing across the frozen runway as we drove across it. Revisited it with my daughter in 2003 . Amazing technological leap forward with I think 9 computer screens in 2003 compared to one fax machine in 1963.

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Did anyone watch it?

Those that did I hope you now understand why some of us that experienced it in all its glory are not too happy at the thought of another winter as severe as that was. Some of the stills and videos do also show how far out some comments on here at times about it was not that snowy!

Agree with you John. I'm not at all sure we could cope as well as we did then, particularly if there were problems with power supplies. Be careful what you wish for.

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I remember it was nearly 7 years old, the one abiding memory was the snow had drifted so deep it was level with the bedroom window and we had no central heating only coal fires the ice was thick on the inside of the windows every morning.

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I watched the documentary and i was lucky that i didn`t experience the hardship shown for Farmers and outlying villagers.

I was fortunate to live in a town and although the transport didn`t always run we were close enough to local shops and other neighbours so help or supplies were within walking distance.

Being 14 at the time and at school all i recall are the fun times sledging,snowballing and sliding on solid ice covered ponds etc.

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