The Winter of 1978-79

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.


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

January

The New Year began white and very cold in many places. Maxima in a number of places was just -5C. A polar 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.
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.
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. 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. 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 flooded the UK. 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.
This was not the end of the wintry weather. There was a heavy wet snowfall in the middle of March across most parts of the UK. 30cm of snow fell in parts of the West Midlands and NE England, there were wintry showers in April and even in the frist week of May there was sleet and snow showers across the UK as a result of a northerly.
The coldest part of the winter was generally from the 8th of January to the 22nd of February, certainly in Scotland, there were no mild interludes during this period.

Previous news reports

November the coldest month of the year
23rd November 1981: Tornadoes galore
The cold spell of early November 1980
November 1979 A topsy-turvy month
December 1979
December 1976
June Decadal Rainfall averages
January 1984: A cold zonal month
January and February 1983: Contrasting months
February 1985
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