January and February are the snowiest months in the UK, whilst snow is more likely in March and April than November and October respectively. And really this is where talk of snow might be expected to end. However, having already most likely teased us with some pleasant summer-like weather earlier in the spring May is prone to throwing in a touch of winter, perhaps more often than might be thought………
A trawl through the archives reveals that on 17th May 1955 was probably the most notable May snowfall on record. Much of England and Wales was affected by several hours of snow (Eden 1995), including two to three hours’ worth in the London area (Brazell, 1968).
Coincidentally, the same date twenty years earlier in 1935 also saw England and Wales affected by widespread snow with some places, including theWirral and parts of Devon recording several inches of snow (Eden 1995). Incidentally, on 17th May 1935 snow also fell in the central Netherlands (Zwart 1985) and this is the latest in the season that snow has been observed here.
May 8th 1943 saw snow falling over parts of northern Britain as a depression tracked eastwards across north Wales. The Isle of Man was among the worst hit places and in Douglas 15cms snow lay on the ground by the morning of the 9th (Pritchard 1997?), whilst virtually the whole of Scotland was affected, including falls of 7cms at Duntulm, Isle of Skye (Stirling 1997). Such is the fickleness of May weather that just a few days later temperatures reached 30C in Kent.
Other notable instances of May snowfall include that of mid-May 1923, Scotland’s coldest May of the 20th century and the century’s second coldest May in England and Wales, whilst May 18th 1968 saw snow falling as far south as the Midlands. Meanwhile, a little more recently the Mays of 1979, 1981 and 1982 started with widespread wintry showers whilst May 13th 1993 saw several centimetres of snow settling over the higher ground in central Britain (Pritchard 1997?), including a fall of 30cm at Moor House in County Durham by the 14th (Stirling 1997).
Stepping back into the nineteenth century Eden (1995) and Stirling (997) report widespread snow England between the 16th and 18th May 1891. Snow fell to depths of several inches in some places, including falls measured at 15cms deep in parts of the Midlands and East Anglia. A few days earlier on the 10th snow had fallen as far south as Bath and London (Stirling 1997).
Meanwhile, Gordon Manley, writing in Weather in 1975 tells of snowfall in southern Britain on 22nd May 1867 and 27th May 1821 whilst Brazell (1968) mentions snow as having fallen in or close to the London area on 12th May 1816, ‘the year without a summer’.
Moving into the eighteenth and late seventeenth centuries Manley (1975) raises the possibility of snow being observed on parts of the higher ground in Sussex on 12th June 1791. Early May snowfall was recorded in parts of the London area in 1770 whilst in 1698 a widespread deep snow was reported all over England on 3rd May (Brazell 1968).
Inevitably June snowfall is a much rarer creature, but widespread sleet and snow showers did manage to affect the United Kingdom on 2nd June 1975, rudely and infamously affecting a cricket match between Derbyshire and Lancashire at Buxton where early afternoon snow covered the pitch with around an inch of snow (Markham, 1994, Eden 1995). Elsewhere, snow settled on hills just south of Birmingham (Eden 1995), whilst to the south and east Manley (1975) reports snow being observed in both Cambridge and London and another county cricket match, this time featuring Essex and Kent, being played in Colchester was interrupted by snow (Ogley et al. 1993). Meanwhile, sleet showers were observed in RAF Manston in eastern Kent, Hassocks, Sussex and Totton and Portsmouth in Hampshire (COL Bulletin 1975, Eden 1995, Ogley en al 1995).
In his book Weatherwise, Philip Eden (1995) wonderfully describes this June snowfall as, "surely the most outrageous thing that June has ever done to us, meteorologically speaking". It also seems that in recent times at least this is the latest in the season that such widespread snow has managed to affect southern Britain (Manley 1975, Eden 1995) and Manley (1975) suggests that the June 1975 snowfall was probably southern Britain’s latest snowfall since the turn of the nineteenth century.
A little more recently, a sleet shower was reported at Birmingham Airport during the morning of 7th June 1985, whilst in the evening snow fell at Eskdalemuir in southern Scotland (Burt 1985, COL Bulletin 1985). However, it would see, that this does of wintry weather was much more localised than the snowfall of 2nd June 1975.
Finally, the 20th century's earliest low level snowfall on the ground in England would appear to be that of 31st October 1934 when 5cms snow fell as far south as Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire whilst 1st November 1942 saw a light covering of snow fall over the Cotswolds (Stirling 1997).
Brazell, J. H. (1698): London Weather. HMSO, p.249.
Burt, S.D. (1985): Sleet and snow in June 1985, Weather, 40, 222.
Climatological Observers Link Bulletin, no.62, June 1975
Climatological Observers Link Bulletin, no.182, June 1985
Eden, P. (1995): Weatherwise. MacMilllan, p.323.
Manley, G. (1975): Snowfalls in June. Weather, 30, 308.
Markham, L. (1994): The Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Weather Book. Countryside Books, p.128.
Ogley, B., Currie, I. and Davison M. (1995): The Sussex Weather Book. Froglets Publications, p.176.
Ogley, B., Davison M. and Currie, I. (1993): The Norfolk and Suffolk Weather Book. Froglets Publications, p.176.
Pritchard, B. (1997?): Weatherwatch, The Guardian, sometime in 1997 I think.
Stirling, R. (1997): The Weather of Britain. Giles de la Mare Publications Ltd., p306.
Zwart, B. (1985): De Weersverwachting voor Vandaag en Morgen. Prisma, p.92.
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Dan Suri, last updated 24 June 2002