14 November 2021 07:44:56

The winter of 1939-40 was the coldest for 45 years with a CET of 1.5 and contained one of the coldest months on record.

The winter started off mild, a carry over from the very mild November, CET 8.7 (+2.9) but it became cooler during first fortnight of December. First half December: 4.7

The real cold spell came during the latter half of December 1939 when an anticyclone became established and this brought frosts and fog at night.

January 1940 was a severe wintry month with frequent frosts and heavy snowfalls. The CET for the month was -1.4C, the first sub zero CET month of the 20th Century and the coldest month since February 1895.

After an initial cold start to January, it became milder around the 6th as a southerly flow covered the UK

By the 10th, an anticyclone from Europe extended across the UK and it became colder again with extensive frosts. The first snowfalls came on a northerly as a low pressure pushed into Scandinavia and pressure built over Greenland. The 16th was a particularly cold day in a biting ENE wind and the following few days were some of the coldest of the weather.


Amazing chart for mid January

On the night of the 23rd, a minimum of -23.3C was recorded at Rhaydaer(Powys) a record low for that date. Other lows include -20C at Canterbury, Welshpool, Hereford and Newport in Shropshire.

The Thames was frozen for 8 miles between Teddington and Sunbury and ice covered stretches of the Mersey, Humber and Severn.

The sea froze at Bognor Regis and Folkestone and Southampton harbours were iced over. The Grand Union Canal was completely frozen over between Birmingham and London. Central London was below freezing for a week and there was skating on the Serpentine on 6" ice.


However January 1940 will always be remembered for the snowstorm and icestorm that struck the UK.


On the 26th, two occlusions were moving up from the SW engaged the cold air over the UK. At the same time, the anticyclone over Scandinavia was intensifying blocking the fronts from pushing through the UK, they became stationary over Wales and SW England. This resulted in a great snowstorm across many northern and eastern areas.

Vast areas of northern England reported between 30-60cm of level snow, the higher parts in excess of 60cm+. The snow drifted in the strong SEly wind even in the centre of London. Other reports of snow depths include Eastbourne:- 25cm, Pontefract:- 37cm, Malvern:- 60cm and Exmoor:- drifts of 2.5m. The snowfall lasted to the 29th of January


On the low ground in the south, the preciptation fell as freezing rain. The raindrops were of the supercooled nature, so when the rain hit the surface it would freeze instantly. This is a rare event in the UK and the 1940 is reckoned to be the severest that has struck the UK in recorded history.

The duration of the storm was remarkable lasting up to 48 hours in places. For instance at Cirencester, 48hrs of freezing rain fell in temperatures of between -2 and -4C. The effect of this prolonged icestorm was severe and damaging. Many telegraph poles and wires were snapped unable to cope with the weight of the ice. Flora and fauna suffered as well, many tree branches were snapped off by the enormous weight of ice, birds were unable to fly because ice accumulated on their wings. Travel was next to impossible as roads and pavements became skating rinks. Any sloped surface was impossible to climb.

The battle between the cold continential air and the milder Atlantic air continued until the end of the month.

The start of February continued the battle and it was the 4th when the Atlantic finally won the skirmish on the 4th. This brought a thaw to the the mass of snow and ice that had accumulated.

The thaw was short lived as the colder air pushed back westwards and it became cold yet again on the 10th.

The winter finally broke on the 20th as mild tropical southwesterlies flloded the UK and the rest of the month was milder

Data for Winter 1939-40

December 1939: 3.2 (-1.5)

January 1940: -1.4 (-5.6)

February 1940: 2.6 (-1.4)

January 1940 is the 11th coldest on record, the nights were especially cold with a CET minimum of -4.5C

The coldest spells of the winter

28th Dec-4th Jan: -1.7

10th-19th Feb 1940: -1.8

10th-24th Jan 1940: -3.5

10th January-19th February: -1.2

28th Dec-19th Feb: -0.8

Second half of January: -2.7

First half of February: 0.8

The mildest CET day: 12.5C 27th February

The coldest CET day: -3.8C 20th January

The coldest CET night: -13.4C 21st January

This was the first winter of the Second World War and the cold hit many parts of Europe. Oporto in Portugal and Corunna in Spain reported heavy snowfalls, the first for many years. In Norway and Sweden, the mercury in thermometers froze, the Danube froze and th morale of Allied men awaiting for the Germans was severely affected by the penetrating cold.

Weather reports in newspapers were severely restricted because of the war with any reports being issued a fortnight after the event.

Here are Guardian reports on the January of 1940

The severity of the cold

Train/transport chaos because of the snow 

Bolier explosions and fog


Buxton isolated



Timelapses, old weather forecasts and natural phenomena videos can be seen on this site
14 November 2021 11:10:01

Thanks, Kev. for that excellent report. That ice-storm must have been quite something to have lived through.

Bearing in mind that that January was the first with a sub-zero CET since February 1895, a gap of 45 years,  I sometimes think we complain too much about the recent shortage of cold winters. After all, our last sub-zero month was as recently as December 2010. In my lifetime, I've experienced sub-zero months in February 1956 (I just missed out on February 1947), January and February 1963, January 1979, February 1986 and December 2010, so I feel that I've had my fair share. (And in January 1987 there was probably the coldest day over much of England during the last 150 years or so.)

Cranleigh, Surrey
Hungry Tiger
14 November 2021 11:34:31

Amazing thread Kevin - and another for me to put in the classics thread - I'll leave this on here for the next couple of days.


Gavin S. FRmetS.
TWO Moderator.
Contact the TWO team - [email protected]
South Cambridgeshire. 93 metres or 302.25 feet ASL.

Hungry Tiger
14 November 2021 11:35:12

I gather the 23rd January 1940 was the coldest night in the UK until December 12th 1981.



Gavin S. FRmetS.
TWO Moderator.
Contact the TWO team - [email protected]
South Cambridgeshire. 93 metres or 302.25 feet ASL.

14 November 2021 13:01:21
Outside the UK, I believe this winter was also partly responsible for the Soviets getting bogged down against the Finns in the Finnish Winter War. The Soviets eventually "won" the war, but it came at a much greater human and material cost, not to mention they were a bit of a laughing stock for it.
Blackrod, Lancashire (4 miles south of Chorley) at 156m asl.
My weather station 
Deep Powder
14 November 2021 13:27:23
Great read, thanks Kevin! πŸ˜ŽπŸ‘
Near Leatherhead 100masl (currently living in China since September 2019)
Loving the weather whatever it brings, snow, rain, wind, sun, heat, all great!
14 November 2021 21:07:51
Thanks Kevin,
My dad always talked about that Winter in almost the same terms as 1947.
14 November 2021 21:15:02

A brilliant read 


Thanks Kev

Remember anything after T120 is really Just For Fun

North Oxfordshire
378 feet A S L

sunny coast
14 November 2021 22:10:58
I believe the lowest temp ever recorded in Sussex was in Jan 1940 at -21 at Bodiam
  • GezM
  • Advanced Member
15 November 2021 09:23:24
Very interesting read and I had forgotten that the first winter of the war was so cold. What strikes me about the news articles is the level of detail of the reporting with plenty of facts and figures. In many ways much more informative than many modern newspaper articles which generally like an eye-catching headline, a load of guff and a big dose of spin ......
Living in St Albans, Herts (116m asl)
Working at Luton Airport, Beds (160m asl)
15 November 2021 18:06:47

Originally Posted by: Norseman 

Thanks Kevin,
My dad always talked about that Winter in almost the same terms as 1947.

Yes, my Dad did too and along with 1947, which fortunately/unfortunately  I can remember, led me to having lifetime interest in weather and climate.

He described to me that clouds in the North got darker and darker and nearer until the sky was very dark allover.

It then began to rain very heavily and after about ten minutes the rain began to turn to hail and shortly, it was all hail and the ground was white everywhere. this lasted another ten minutes when the odd snowflake could be seen mixed with the hail. Quickly the snow became dominant and very heavy.

It didn't stop, and accumulated to good depths by the end of the afternoon(?). It snowed all night and all the next day and the day after but gradually over this time getting less intense.

1947 was different. The general and regular theme as described by the weather forecast, was that there would be a warming of 'snow spreading from the south but quickly turning to rain'.

And in Derby the snow did turn to rain - once!

The snow however soon returned.

"The professional standards of science must impose a framework of discipline and at the same time encourage rebellion against it". – Michael Polyani (1962)
"If climate science is sound and accurate, then it should be able to respond effectively to all the points raised…." - Grandad
"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts". - Bertrand Russell
"Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts" – Richard Feynman
"A consensus means that everyone agrees to say collectively what no one believes individually.”- Abba Eban, Israeli diplomat
Saint Snow
17 November 2021 10:35:12

I think I've told this tale here before, but in our local paper there used to be a weekly feature by this bloke looking at local history.

One story was about a severe snowstorm during wartime that left extremely deep snow and had caused a train to crash somewhere in this vicinity (IIRC around the Newton/Earlestown area, which would make sense given the rail intersections there) I think there were deaths, and I've got it in mind that it was a military train transporting troops. The story was hushed-up at the time due to wartime morale issues.

I contacted the guy sometime later to ask for a copy of the article and although he said he'd dig it out, he never did and I'm pretty sure he's passed away now.

Can't remember the exact year, though. Trying to pin it down, I doubt it was 1939/40, as we were still in the 'phoney war' phase with spirits remaining a bit gung-ho (Dunkirk in summer '40 put a stop to that!), and the articles you've posted seem very detailed; press began to be more censored from later in 1940 (especially about bad news events)

I'm guessing, then, that it would have been either the 1940/41 or 1941/42 winters. Both were cold and snowy, and both hit northern areas more.

It'd be a stretch for you to have details of the event, but if you ever do your excellent articles on these two winters, I'll be reading avidly!




Home: St Helens (26m asl) Work: Manchester (75m asl)
A TWO addict since 14/12/01
"How can wealth persuade poverty to use its political freedom to keep wealth in power? Here lies the whole art of Conservative politics."
Aneurin Bevan
Users browsing this topic