Fiona Macrae – Daily Mail December 29, 2010
If you thought last week was cold and chaotic, think again. This winter could be the harshest in more than 300 years – with the worst yet to come.
Temperatures for December are the coldest on record, with the average reading close to minus 1c – almost six degrees below normal.
And with forecasters warning that this winter’s ‘mini ice age’ could last until mid-March, this winter could be worst since 1683-84 when a frozen River Thames played home to all the fun of a frost fair.
Figures from the Met Office show that the average temperature from December 1, the first day of winter, to December 28 was a bitter minus 0.8c (30.5f).
This equals the record December low of 1890.
But, with the mercury traditionally at its lowest in January and February, and more bracing weather on the way, this winter could bring the biggest freeze in 327 years.
Forecaster Brian Gaze of The Weather Outlook said: ‘It’s very unusual to have a sub-zero month – the last one at any time of year was February 1986.
‘January and February are expected to be significantly colder than average, with further snow for most of the country, and it will be no surprise at all if this persists until mid-March.
‘Dense cold air is just north of Britain and will never be far away. Once it is in place, it can stay for months.’
Net weather forecaster Ian Michael Waite said: ‘We expect January to be colder than average – there’s no way we’re moving out of this mini ice age any time soon.’
During 1683-84, the coldest winter on record, average temperatures of minus 1.17c (31.7f) between December and February saw the frozen Thames turn into a winter wonderland of puppet shows, food stalls, horse races and ice bowling.
John Evelyn, a contemporary of Samuel Pepys wrote of the frost fair: ‘Coaches plied from Westminster to the Temple, as in the streets; sleds, sliding with skates, bull-baiting, horse and coach races, puppet plays and interludes, cooks, tippling and other lewd places, so that it seemed to be a bacchanalian triumph, or carnival on the water.’
The figures come from the Central England Temperature record, which contains data for an area enclosed by London, Bristol and Manchester from 1659 to the present day.
This bitter end to this year was the result of an unusually large area of high pressure squatting over Greenland – combined with low pressure over the UK.
Normally, westerly winds from the Atlantic keep the British Isles mild during the winter. But a zone of high pressure in the North Atlantic blocked the normal westerlies, sending our mild winter weather to Iceland and allowing a slab of cold Arctic air to flow south over Britain, bringing sub-zero temperatures, ice and snow.
Met Office spokesman Dave Britton said: ‘What has been quite unprecedented has been the prolonged nature of the cold.
‘We have had some colder spells in December but what has been quite noticeable about this one is quite how prolonged it was and the amount of snow we had.’
With milder weather forecast for the next few days, we still have some way to go to beat the coldest month on record. In January 1795, temperatures averaged just minus 3.1c (26.4f).