While we might all croon along with Bing Crosby and dream of a white Christmas like the ones we used to know, snow is not the only story when it comes to the weather we’re woken up to on Christmas morning. From howling gales to beach-ready sunshine, floods to fog, Christmas weather has proven it can be as temperamental as the Seventies Christmas tree lights we keep dragging down from the loft. Here are some of the weird and wonderful weather events of Christmases past...
Let it snow!
Our fascination with a white Christmas actually harks back to the 16th Century when Britain was in the grip of what’s been called a ‘Little Ice Age’. From roughly 1550 to 1850, bitterly cold winters cast an icy spell over Europe and the UK, causing the English Channel, the Baltic Sea and even the River Thames to freeze over, allowing Londoners the chance to enjoy frost fairs on the river, where shops, ice rinks and pubs would spring up on the ice.
From 1752 our chances of a snowy Christmas were significantly reduced when Britain switched from the old Roman Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar, effectively moving Christmas back by 11 days.
The deepest and most widespread Christmas snow occurred in 1938, when snowfall measured between 15-30cm (6-12in). Much of the nation was covered in snow although the day itself was largely dry with just odd snow flurries. The run-up to Christmas was cold and snowy, especially in the south, with winds bringing frequent snow showers especially to the east.
The winter of 1962 and into 1963 was one of the coldest on record, with Christmas marking the moment icy temperatures spread across the nation.
The cold weather reached the UK on December 22, 1962 with snow falling across Scotland on Christmas Eve before sweeping south. This Arctic weather didn’t relent until March 1963. Conditions made for surreal scenes – people skating in front of Buckingham Palace, a man cycling on the Thames near Windsor Bridge, a milkman doing his deliveries on skis, pictured left. For 62 consecutive days, snow lay on the ground in the south of England, but we battled through with many schools remaining open as children walked or sledged to school!
One of the coldest and snowiest months of the last century was in 1981. More than half the country had snow on Christmas Day, with the deepest covering recorded in Kindrogan, Perthshire at 47cm (18in).
Most exceptionally cold winters are characterised by long spells of dry and sunny weather, punctuated by occasional snowfalls, but December 1981 was different, with widespread and heavy snow occurring at regular intervals throughout the month.
Most recently, 2004 and 2009 brought traffic chaos for drivers trying to make it to relatives for Christmas lunch in the ice and snow, while 2010 gave us the coldest Christmas since 1830, as the mercury plummeted to -18°C, (-0.4°F) as well as giving us our most recent taste of widespread Christmas snow.
When is it officially a white Christmas?
Traditionally the Met Office used to define it by a single snowflake falling on its London building. However, with the increase in betting on where we will see a white Christmas, the number of locations has increased and can now include sites such as Buckingham Palace, Belfast (Aldergrove Airport), Aberdeen (Pittodrie – Aberdeen FC), Edinburgh (Castle), Coronation Street in Manchester and the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Did you know?
Over the last 54 years, snow has fallen somewhere in the UK on Christmas Day 38 times. This is despite the fact that December, of all the winter months, is the least likely to see snow, with flakes expected on an average of just 3.9 days, compared to 5.3 in January, 5.6 in Feb and even 4.2 in March!
Here comes the sun
The warmest Christmas Day on record was in 1896 in Edinburgh of all places, matched later by Killerton, Devon in 1920 when the thermometer hit 15.6°C. Meanwhile, the sunniest day was in Faversham, Kent, in 1979 and Camborne, Cornwall in 2010 where there were 7.5 hours of recorded sunshine.
Talk about stormy weather
1997 was also a memorable Christmas for weather when one of the worst gales of the past two decades arrived in Northern England and Wales, just in time for Christmas Eve. Many people will remember not Santa Claus but 90mph winds ploughing down the chimney, meaning towns woke up to uprooted trees, broken roof tiles and blown branches come Christmas morning.
Christmas 2015 will be remembered as a yuletide wrought with weather challenges. Originally forecast to be one of the mildest Christmases yet, in the end it was one of the wettest, as Storm Eva rolled across northern England and Wales through Christmas night, reaching southern Scotland on Boxing Day. It caused widespread disruption and sadly for many, lots of flooding.
- For more nostalgia get the latest copy of Yours magazine, out every fortnight on a Tuesday