Winter of 1962–63 in the United Kingdom
The winter of 1962–1963 (also known as the Big Freeze of 1963) was one of the coldest winters on record in the United Kingdom. Temperatures plummeted and lakes and rivers began to freeze over. In the Central England Temperature (CET) record, extending back to 1659, only the winter (defined as the months of December, January and February) of 1683–84 has been significantly colder, with 1739–40 being slightly colder than 1962–63. However, the winter did not rank so highly in Scotland for its severity as it did in England and Wales.
The beginning of the month was very foggy, with London suffering its last great smog before clean air legislation and the reduction in the use of coal fires had their full effect. A short wintry outbreak brought snow to the country on 12th-13th. A very cold easterly set in on 22 December as an anticyclone formed over Scandinavia, drawing cold continental winds from Russia. Over the Christmas period, the Scandinavian High collapsed, but a new one formed near Iceland, bringing Northerly winds. Significant snowfall occurred as the air mass moved south and parts of the South of England in particular had heavy snow late on 26 December (Boxing Day) continuing into 27 December. The cold air became firmly established.
29–30 December 1962
On 29–30 December 1962 a blizzard swept across the South West of England and Wales. Snow drifted to over 20 feet (6.1 m) deep in places, driven on by gale force easterly winds, blocking roads and railways. The snow stranded villagers and brought down powerlines. The near-freezing temperatures meant that the snow cover lasted for over two months in some areas. Snow lay to 6 inches (0.15 m) depth in Manchester city centre, 9 inches (0.23 m) in Wythenshawe, and about 18 inches (0.46 m) at Keele University in Staffordshire. By the end of the month, there were snow drifts 8 feet (2.4 m) deep in Kent and 15 feet (4.6 m) deep in the west.
January 1963 was the coldest month of the twentieth century, indeed the coldest since January 1814, with an average temperature of −2.1 °C (28.2 °F). Much of England and Wales was snow-covered throughout the month. The country started to freeze solid, with temperatures as low as −19.4 °C (−2.9 °F) at Achany in Sutherland on the 11th. Freezing fog was a hazard for most of the country.
In January 1963 the sea froze for 1 mile (1.6 km) out from shore at Herne Bay, Kent. The sea also froze inshore in many places, removing many British inland waterbirds’ usual last resort of finding food in estuaries and shallow sea. The sea froze 4 miles out to sea from Dunkirk, and BBC television news expressed a fear that the Strait of Dover would freeze across. The upper reaches of the River Thames also froze over, though it did not freeze in Central London, partly due to the hot effluent from two thermal power stations, Battersea and Bankside: the removal of the old multi-arched London Bridge, which obstructed the river’s free flow, and the river embankments, make the river less likely to freeze in London than in earlier times (see River Thames frost fairs). On 20 January 283 workers had to be rescued by RAF helicopters from Fylingdales, where they had been snowbound for several days. The ice was thick enough in some places that people were skating on it, and on 22 January a car was driven across the frozen Thames at Oxford. Icicles hung from many roof gutterings; some of these were as long as a metre (3 feet, 3 inches).
In February 1963 more snow came. It was also stormy with winds reaching Force 8 on the Beaufort scale (gale force winds).
A 36-hour blizzard caused heavy drifting snow in most parts of the country. Drifts reached 20 feet (6.1 m) in some areas and there were gale force winds reaching up to 81 mph (130 km/h). On the Isle of Man, wind speeds were recorded at 119 mph (191 km/h).
The thaw set in during early March; 6 March was the first morning of the year without any frost anywhere in Britain. The temperatures soon soared to 17 °C (62.6 °F) and the remaining snow rapidly disappeared.
One of the most noticeable consequences of the freezing conditions which hit the UK in the winter of 1962/63 was the enormous disruption to the national sporting calendar. For many weeks football matches in both the English and Scottish leagues suffered because of the severe effects of the winter weather. Several ties in the 1962–63 FA Cup were rescheduled ten or more times, to the point that the 5th and 6th rounds originally scheduled for 16 February and 9 March respectively, were finally played on 16 March and 30 March respectively, with the semi-finals rescheduled from 30 March to 27 April. A board known as the Pools Panel was set up; postponed matches were adjudicated by it, to provide the football pool results. From 8 December to 16 February, Bolton Wanderers played no competitive matches. Both codes of rugby, union and league, suffered much the same fate. All this occurred in the days well before under-soil heating became widespread at major venues. When the thaw arrived, a huge backlog of fixtures had to be hastily dealt with. The Football League season was extended by four weeks from its original finishing point of 27 April, with the final league fixtures taking place one day before the rescheduled FA Cup Final.
National Hunt horse racing was also badly affected, with 94 meetings cancelled during the freeze. There was no racing in England between 23 December and 7 March inclusive, although a meeting at Ayr in Scotland went ahead on 5 January.
References in popular culture
The winter of 1962–63 is mentioned in The Dream Academy’s 1985 hit single “Life in a Northern Town”: “In winter 1963 / It felt like the world would freeze / With John F. Kennedy and The Beatles”. The last line references the assassination of John F. Kennedy and Beatlemania in the United Kingdom, which both occurred in November 1963 (thus actually in autumn 1963).
- Winter of 1946–1947 in the United Kingdom
- January 1987 Southeast England snowfall
- Winter of 1990–1991 in Western Europe
- European winter storms of 2009–10
- Winter storms of 2009–2010 in Great Britain and Ireland
- The European winter cold snap of 2010-2011
- "BBC London summary".
- A BBC television program made in 1963 and retransmitted on BBC2 at 5.30-6.30 pm on Saturday 19 January 2013
- Eden, Philip (1995). Weatherwise. Macmillan. p. 297, citing Gordon Manley’s Central England Temperature Series. ISBN 0-333-61610-3.
- "Pathe news reel, January 1963".
- "Newsreel film clip of sea frozen at Herne Bay".
- "Frozen sea reported as damaging pier at Herne Bay".
- "photographs of Thames frozen at Windsor".
- Paul Simons, The Times, 26 January 2013, p 73
- http://www.footballsite.co.uk/Statistics/Articles/1962-63winter.htm football site: 1962/63 - a Winter of postponements
- "Rugby affected. Extraordinary measures for a single match". BBC News. 18 February 2003.
- Kettley, John (2009). Weatherman. Great Northern Books. p. 35. ISBN 978-1-905080-61-8.
- "Snow Survey of Great Britain: Season 1962-3" by R.E. Booth
- Account of the big freeze in Windsor
- local newspaper history coverage
- Winterwatch episode on YouTube featuring the 10 February 1963 Tonight episode "The Big Freeze"
- BFI documentary about snow and the railways
- Pathe newsreel, February 1963, snow affecting railway in kent
- Pathe newsreel, January 1963, athletics
- Pathe newsreel, January 1963, helicopter feeding livestock