Winter of 1894–95 in the United Kingdom
The winter of 1894–95 was severe for the British Isles with a CET of 1.27 °C or 34.3 °F. Many climatologists have come to view this winter as the end of the Little Ice Age and the culmination of a decade of harsh winters in Britain. Whereas the average CET for the ten winters from 1885–86 to 1894–95 was 2.87 °C or 37.2 °F, no winter with a CET under 3.0 °C or 37.4 °F followed for twenty-two years[a] and no month as cold as February or January 1895 until 1940. In contrast, between 1659 and 1894 no spell with every winter CET above 3.0 °C or 37.4 °F had lasted longer than twelve winters.[b]
Although this winter – which featured the lowest North Atlantic Oscillation index between 1882 and 1962 with lower values recorded only in 1880/1881, 1962/1963 and 1968/1969 – affected most of Europe and North America very severely, the difficulties Britain had coping with it vis-à-vis the United States and Germany is seen as marking a beginning in the decline of British hegemony in global affairs. The severe winter led to mass unemployment and severe disruptions to shipping on the River Thames, which froze for the last time on record. Because mass political activism had not yet created the welfare state, most workers were left without sustenance and in industrial centres large soup kitchens were widespread to feed these people.
There were also numerous skating festivals organised to take advantage of the unusually cold and sunny weather, with up to fifty thousand people skating on The Serpentine in London's Hyde Park and speed skating races being widely popular and generating money to be used for relief of the poor, and in some cases to provide them with temporary work as vendors for spectators.
Coal supplies dwindled as transporting coal by river was impossible, whilst many recently introduced exotic plants were killed by the cold.
December 1894 was mild for the most part and the first three weeks were dominated by southwesterly winds, so much so that primroses and daisies were in bloom during the third week. It was not until the last week, when the winds veered to the northwest that colder weather arrived with frosts and snow showers to exposed areas.
Seven inches (0.18 m) of snow was reported in Norfolk at the end of the month. The average monthly temperature over central England was 5.1 °C or 41.2 °F.
Troughs in the flow gave snow showers to most parts and many places had a snow cover, Oxford had 3 inches (0.08 m) by the 6th. High pressure to the west moved across the UK and under the clear skies and with a deep snow cover, very low minima were recorded with −11 °C (12.2 °F) in parts of Norfolk and −18 °C or −0.4 °F in parts of the Scottish Highlands. Freezing fog formed and was slow to clear, a maximum of −5 °C or 23 °F was recorded at Ross-on-Wye in freezing fog.
Milder air tried to push in from the Atlantic Ocean with a system and a heavy snowfall resulted across the UK with depths of snow of 8 to 15 centimetres (3.1 to 5.9 in) being widely reported.
The Atlantic air finally broke through and there was a thaw resulting in flooding in a number of areas, as temperatures rose double figures in the south, Kew recording 11 °C (51.8 °F).
The northwesterlies returned on the 21st with a low over the near continent and its active cold front moving across southeast England bringing thunderstorms, snow and hail. The northerly flow for a few days and conditions were severe over northern Scotland with heavy drifting snow and snow fell elsewhere exposed to the north wind. Thundersnow occurred widely on the 23rd with the passage of another strong frontal system.
The average monthly temperature was 0.2 °C or 32.4 °F, which is the twenty-sixth-coldest January ever recorded since 1659 and sixteenth-coldest since 1766 – though only 1940, 1963 and 1979 have been colder since. January 1895 saw heavy snowfall produce above average water equivalent precipitation – England and Wales averaged 100.9 millimetres or 3.97 inches which is more than in any colder month since the EWP series began – except in the west of Scotland which was in a rain shadow from the prevailing northeasterly winds and received only a quarter of normal rainfall. Despite the heavy snowfall, sunshine duration was above normal throughout except for the east coast and adjacent slopes, with the west and southwest having up to twice their long-term average insolation.
A very cold easterly flow controlled the weather over the UK and most of Europe and there were severe frosts with minima of −13 °C or 8.6 °F at Loughborough and −15 °C or 5.0 °F being recorded at Chester. Heavy snow showers came with the easterly with Yorkshire and Lincolnshire getting the brunt of the showers, South Shields was severely affected by fifteen hours of continuous snowfall forcing the closure of the shipyard. Small polar lows affected the west with snowfalls, Douglas on the Isle of Man recorded 8 inches (0.20 m) of snow. However, away from the east coast, February 1895 was exceptionally dry and very sunny, with some southern areas recording no measurable precipitation and the England and Wales Precipitation value totalling only 11.1 millimetres or 0.44 inches of water equivalent – the sixth-driest February and equal 28th-driest any month since the series begin in 1766. Over 150 hours of sunshine was reported from Jersey, over 110 hours from Sussex and Hampshire, and around 80 hours in the north, figures that in the south rival February 2008 as the sunniest on record.
As the high over Scandinavia moved over the UK a phenomenally cold and dry spell with exceptionally low minima followed. Temperatures of −20 °C or −4 °F or less were regularly recorded, −27.2 °C or −17.0 °F was recorded at Braemar on the 11th, the lowest-ever UK minima, −24 °C or −11.2 °F at Buxton also on the 11th, −22.2 °C or −8.0 °F in Rutland. −12.7 °C or 9.1 °F was the mean average temperature for Wakefield in Yorkshire between the 5th and the 14th. Canals, rivers, lakes and ponds froze in the severe cold, the Manchester Ship Canal was iced over, there were ice floes in the Thames and the Thames estuary itself was impassable because of ice.
- It is estimated that between 50,000 and 60,000 skated on the Serpentino yesterday. The thickness of the ice averaged 6½ inches.... In Finsbury Park the ice in places was no less than 10 inches (25 cm) thick.
- ... coroner for East London, held inquests at Poplar on the bodies of four persons whose death was due to the cold weather. At St. Clement Dane’s Vestry-hall, at the Westminster Union, at Chelsea, and at the Kensington Town-hall similar cases were investigated.... Out of eight inquests ... five were stated by the medical witnesses to be due to the severity of the weather.
The lack of snow meant that frost penetrated unusually deep into soils throughout southern England. Gas and water pipes fractured creating major supply problems: Northampton was blackened out when the worst of these fractures cut out the town’s gas supply, whilst heaving from the frost made most major roads and railways impassable.
The record minima set for these dates in February 1895:
- 7th: −21.7 °C or −7.1 °F
- 8th: −25.0 °C or −13.0 °F
- 9th: −23.9 °C or −11.0 °F
- 10th: −25.6 °C or −14.1 °F
- 11th: −27.2 °C or −17.0 °F
- 12th: −20.6 °C or −5.1 °F
- 13th: −21.9 °C or −7.4 °F
- 14th: −21.7 °C or −7.1 °F
- 16th: −23.9 °C or −11.0 °F
- 17th: −23.9 °C or −11.0 °F
- 18th: −23.9 °C or −11.0 °F
- 19th: −22.2 °C or −8.0 °F
The average monthly temperature was −1.8 °C or 28.8 °F, the second-coldest February ever recorded, whilst the minimum temperature with the clear skies of −5.1 °C or 22.8 °F is the lowest for any month since records began in 1878.
As the high began to slip westwards, milder Atlantic air slowly encroached and temperatures crept above freezing for the first time in a couple of weeks, London had its first frost-free night on the 21st for three weeks. Maxima were finally returning to close to normal by the end of the month. March 1895, however, saw another cold snap during the first week with heavier snow showers than observed during the coldest periods four weeks beforehand, but a more permanent thaw took place from the second week without major flooding.
Coldest spells of the winter (CET means)
- Coldest daily CET maximum: −4.5 °C or 23.9 °F 6 February
- Coldest daily CET minimum: −13.5 °C or 7.7 °F 8 February
- Mildest daily CET maximum: 11.2 °C or 52.2 °F on 13 December
a It might be noted that over North America, winters of comparable severity to those of the nineteenth century occurred frequently between 1896 and 1920 – 1898/1899, 1911/1912 and 1919/1920 generally (except the latter two in Alaska), 1903/1904, 1904/1905 and 1917/1918 in the East, and 1912/1913 and 1916/1917 in the West.
b The longest previous spell of winters above 3.0 °C or 37.4 °F had been from 1716/1717 to 1727/1728, whilst there were eight consecutively from 1731/1732 to 1738/1739 (followed by the record cold year of 1740) and seven from 1847/1848 to 1853/1854.
- Manley, Gordon; "Central England temperatures: monthly means 1659 to 1973.", Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, vol. 100, pp. 389–405 (1974).
- ‘The Last Thames Freeze in London, February 1895’ in Nobbs, Patrick; The Story of the British and Their Weather: Cloudy with a Chance of Rain
- Met Office; Seasonal Hadley Centre Mean CET
- Barrow, Elaine and Hulme Mike; Climates of the British Isles: Present, Past and Future; p. 412 ISBN 1317973755
- Currie, Ian; ‘The great frost: The winter of 1894-95’; Weather; 50(3) (March 1995); pp. 66-73
- Pike, W.S.; ‘Rivalry on ice: Skating and the memorable 1894/95 winter’; Weather, Volume 50, Issue 2 (February 1995), pp. 48–54
- ‘Great Frost of 1895’, Bulletin of Miscellaneous Information: Royal Gardens, Kew. Vol. 1896, No. 109 (1896), pp. 5–10.
- Met Office; Monthly Weather Report, January 1895
- Met Office; Monthly Ranked Hadley Centre Mean CET
- Manley, Gordon; ‘The Durham Meteorological Record, 1847-1940’; Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, 67 (October 1941); pp. 363-380
- Met Office; Hadley Center Ranked England and Wales Precipitation
- Met Office; Monthly Weather Report – February 1895
- Met Office; Southwest England and South Wales February Sunshine
- TORRO: British extremes: minimum temperatures
- ‘The Extraordinary Frost: Deaths from the Cold’; The Times, 14 February 1895 (p. 4, cols. 3-4)
- ‘The Frost Of 1895’, British Medical Journal. Vol. 1, No. 1790 (Apr. 20, 1895), p. 886. JSTOR 20215895
- Met Office; Hadley Centre Ranked Central England Minimum Temperature